Pakistan: Over 300 telecommunication workers and trade unionists arrested

Government starts military crackdown as it announces unilateral date for privatisation of Pakistan Telecommunications

Over the weekend the number of telecommunication workers taken into custody by the police has risen to over three hundred. Paramilitary police forces have raided the homes of union leaders and arrested the relatives of union leaders. Police raided the house of one employee who died recently. Despite being told this police arrested his son who has nothing to do with the industry. This is reminiscent of the tactics of the US army who take relatives as hostages when they raid houses in Iraq.

These brutal action follows the unilateral Government announcement of the restart of the privatisation process on 18 June and the deployment of the Signal Corps (a section of the military) to take over the running of the telephone exchanges. The restart of the privatisation process is in complete disregard for the agreement signed by the government which lead to a suspension of the strike on Friday 4 June where they promised the indefinite halt of privatisation.

In effect this is a lock out of the workforce since all workers from grades 1-16 in the industry are barred from entering the telecommunications depots.

However, the mood of the workers is even more solid than before. They have refused to accept improvements in pay and conditions which the managing director of Pakistan Telecommunications Company Ltd (PTCL) offered in the last couple of days. The value of the new package went up from Rs3.5 billion to Rs 5 billion but workers refused to be budged on agreeing to these enticements to accept privatisation.

One of the union leaders Haji Khan Bhatti said at a press conference in Karachi gave the government 24 hours to release all those arrested and to withdraw the restarted privatisation process. Another union leader Malik Maqbool said that the striking workers would shut down the telecommunications system from 15 June. He warned companies not to participate in the bidding process and said that if the process went ahead then the telecommunication workers would take action against this happening.

In Quetta, Balochistan, telecommunication workers have already taken action against the fibre optic link which is the backbone for much of the system in the province.

It is vital that the government and management are flooded with letters of protest. There are signs of some frictions within the state in Pakistan over the question of the strike. An ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan has opposed the privatisation process in Parliament and the leader of the MMA (Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal – an alliance of Islamic parties in Pakistan) has said that if his party is elected at the next elections they will renationalise all industries privatised by Musharraf.

Letter of protest will widen divisions between the Privatisation Commission of the government who are most in favour of restarting the privatisation process immediately and the Ministry of the Interior who have shown signs of holding back in an all out attack on the telecommunications workers. These letters could also have an effect in holding back the government from making vicious attacks against the telecommunication workers.

Protests should demand:

  • Release all telecommunications workers and trade unionists leaders taken into custody. Stop the crackdown now. No more arrests
  • For the immediate withdrawal of all paramilitary and police forces from in and around PTCL premises
  • Honour the 4 June agreement – No to the privatisation of PTCL
  • Full support to PTCL workers fighting privatisation

Send to:

Awais Leghari, Minister Telecom and Information Technology, minister@moitt.gov.pk  and aleghari@moitt.gov.pk 

Junaid Khan, President PTCL, president@ptcl.com.pk 

M.Shahzad Sadan, Senior Vice President PTCL, sevphr@ptcl.com.pk 

Please send copies to:

turcpakistan@yahoo.com and

cwi@worldsoc.co.uk

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