First ever victor for health department service workers
A long health workers’ struggle, including a threat of a second round of strike action, forced the government, particularly its relevant bureaucracy, to finally honour an agreement reached three months earlier with workers in the health sector.
While all previous negotiations with the employers came to a dead end, a three phase strike action was enough to force the government to issue the final notification. This is seen as a major victory for health workers, in particular, and public sector workers, in general.
The government was forced to issue a ‘notification’ concerning over ten thousand workers employed in the health department across POK (Pakistani Occupied Kashmir). The result saw new pay and service structures and channels of promotion worth Pak Rupees 38 million per annum. No service structure for health workers has existed since the division of Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan in 1947. This strike gains will benefit paramedical staff, supporting staff, staff nurses and allied specialties.
The successful and independent struggle, which got international solidarity, by a section of public sector workers, over a couple of years, was led by the “democratic” group, under the slogan of ‘Workers of the World Unite!”.
The Trade Unions Rights Campaign Kashmir (TURCK) campaigned for the holding of democratic elections in the Paramedical Staff Association (PSA) around which health workers are organised, as no elections for the central offices positions for this union were held for over 12 years.
As a result of a campaign by members and supporters of TURCK to assist and build solidarity, the ‘democratic group’ won a landslide victory in the May 2007 elections. A new militancy developed amongst the workers. The first strike action, last year, set the pace for future struggle, and the government was forced to accept the workers’ demands.
One of the workers’ leaders said, “One thing that this struggle has proved is that it has raised the consciousness and confidence of all the workers, that their struggle can be successful” and he added “We will be also looking into the future for building our own voice, as our strike action and other public sector workers currently struggling for their demands, have exposed all the political parties, including nationalists and many so-called left groups here, none of whom raised their voice in our favour’.
One aspect of the struggle has benefited the workers employed in the lower grades (1-4), including those in catering, cleaning, drivers, and electricians. These workers will now also have a channel of promotion, with a maximum promotion of up to grade 20 approved.
Recently, other public sector workers have also been on strike, including government printing and press workers, who, as a result of down-sizing, lost their jobs and are fighting for reinstatement.
At the same time, public sector workers in the Poonch division have been on strike, demanding the implementation of their allowances and benefits for living in a larger urban area, Rawalakot, just as other public sector workers are paid such benefits in other areas.
Included in public sector workers’ demands is the call for the setting up of Service Tribunal benches in all district head quarters, to facilitate workers, and also demands for labour laws and labour courts.
College teachers have also been on limited strike action strike over pay and work hours. The Trade Unions Rights Campaign Kashmir (TURCK) pledges to continue to assist and workers struggling for their economic, political and other democratic rights.
Trade Unions Rights Campaign Kashmir (TURCK) calls for:
- Scrap anti-worker laws, the special powers act and the services removal act!
- Implement the regularisation of all contractual workers, with a RS 6,000 minimum wage!
- Increase wages, linked with inflation!
- No to down-sizing, re-instated government press workers immediately, without loss of pay!
- The setting up of Service Tribunal benches at all district levels!
- The creation of labour laws, labour courts and the right to organise trade unions!
- Regularise all work for contract workers in all departments, including health, PWD (Public Works Department), forest, education, electricity etc.