Pakistan: Union activist has suspension withdrawn following protest campaign

Trade Union Rights Campaign secretary victimised for exposing Telcom redundancy plans

Azad Qadri, Deputy General Secretary of the Lion’s Unity Union, suspended by the management of the privatised Pakistan Telecommunications company has won reinstatement after a protest campaign by trade unionists in Pakistan. Azad, also organising secretary of the Trade Union Rights Campaign Pakistan (TURCP), was a national activist in the 2005 strike against Telcom privatisation. Although union leaders accepted privatisation, on the basis of big concessions from management, TURCP members warned, at the time, that management would try to break agreements and would also make widespread redundancies. Unfortunately, TURC members were proved correct.

Union activists made public an internal management memo which categorised over 11,000 workers at the company as "redundant" – i.e. whose skills were no longer needed because they used "outdated technology". Another 11,000 workers were termed "surplus, not needed" in the memo. It is clear that management intend to sack over 40% of the workforce. However, management were directed not to make these plans public because of the "embarrassment" it would cause.

Union activists, like Azad Qadri, were quoted in the press calling for a widespread campaign of protest against the redundancies and reminding people of the promises of the management to protect jobs, following the strike against privatisation.

It is also clear that management want to target union activists within the workforce and shortlist them as "surplus, not needed", to weaken workers’ ability to fight back.

Soon after the plans were made public, Azad was called to a meeting with senior management. When he came into the meeting, management representatives locked the door and threatened him with the sack. It is clear they were furious that management plans had been made public and they obviously believed that Azad was responsible for leaking them to the press. When Azad argued against management, he was summarily suspended on trumped up charges.

In response, the Lion’s Unity union organised a protest demonstration of over 300 workers and a meeting of 100 activists, from all over Islamabad.

Since the protest action, management have sheepishly announced that Azad has been reinstated, and the charges, for the moment, are dropped. This result is a victory for the workers in Telcom but they will have to be prepared to counter further attacks.

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