Pakistan: Water and sanitation workers’ protest

Struggle over pay and conditions in Balochistan province

For the last six months, water and sanitation workers (Wasa) in Quetta (a city in the Balochistan province of Pakistan) have been taking weekly protest actions, including a 24-hour strike, on 23 August, over the refusal of the authorities to implement an agreement with the Wasa employees union over pay and conditions. The following (edited) report is from Maroof Azad, central organiser of the Pakistan workers’ movement (PWM) and General Secretary united labour federation (MLF) Balochistan.

Water and sanitation workers’ protest

The working class of Balochistan and Pakistan is under attack by the state, which is pursuing neo-liberal economic polices in the interests of the IMF, World Bank and multinationals.

Water and sanitation workers are living in some of the worst conditions in Quetta city. The total Wasa workforce of 1,400 (of whom 777 are regular workers and 623 are on temporary contracts) is brutally exploited by management and suffers attacks by the government authorities.

For decades, the corrupt and impotent ruling class has not invested in the infrastructure, particularly water and sanitation projects. Most of the water supply and sanitation infrastructure dates from the period of British rule. As a result, the majority of the city’s population is suffering from hepatitis and a severe water shortage.

Pressure from Wasa workers meant that the Wasa employees union at last put the workers’ demands to regularise the workforce and for improvements in pay and housing to the Wasa authority, last November. After a long discussion they reached agreement. A labour department official representative was also present and endorsed the agreement.

However, the five major demands were not implemented by the administration, stating a lack of funds. The union said that if they did not implement their demands, it would call protests and go on strike. The union started a hunger strike on 13 March 2008 and organised weekly protests and a trade union rally. The protests are still continuing.

In these protests, the PWM and MLF in Balochistan have played a decisive role. MLF President, Khan Zaman, and the PWM’s Maroof Azad were the main organisers of the movement.

On 23 August, the Wasa employees’ union went on strike for 24 hours. After the strike, the city Nazim (Mayor) called an emergency meeting, in which MLF, PWM and Wasa employees union participated. Nazim said that within one week he will solve the demands of the workers and would also convey the meeting’s resolutions to the Chief Minister.

The Wasa employees union agreed that they would restart the supply of water to the city because the shortage of water and sanitation is one of the biggest problems people face in Quetta, but would continue its protests until victory.

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The PWM condemns the present Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) central government and administration in Balochistan for their anti-working class policies. It is also demanding that the government stops the military operation against oppressed nationalities in Balochistan and Phastoonkhow, and immediately withdraws the army from these areas. The PWM demands that ex-president Musaraff must stand trial.

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September 2008