Sweden: Pakistani ferry workers win right to permanent visas

“This is a major victory!”

Pakistani ferry workers, who a little more than a year ago were fired from the Åland ferry, Birger Jarl, were given permanent visas to stay in Sweden, by the Swedish immigration office, last Tuesday. This is a major victory, after a year-long struggle that started in protest against the redundancies and continued with a long and tenacious struggle to win the right for the ferry workers to stay in Sweden.

Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (RS) (CWI – Sweden) and our newspaper, ‘Offensiv’, were the first to be informed of the good news by Tariq Naseem, who together with Munir Raja, were to the forefront of the struggle, with the support of RS´s support committee and the SAC´s (syndicalists) Ruben Tastas-Duque.

“It is a major success after a year long struggle. We want to thank you for all your support”, said a jubilant Tariq Naseem.

The workers’ lawyer, Jan Wasberg, confirmed that all 15 Pakistanis he represented received permanent visas. He referred to the legislation concerning foreigners and their lengthy employment on a Swedish ferry. “The immigration office judges, considering the fact of the long time you [the sacked Pakistini workers] have been employed by the shipping company Allandia AB and been working on board ‘Birger Jarl’, [decided] that you have [a] special connection to Sweden that the above mentioned regulation refers to. Thus you are granted a permanent visa.”

The lawyer went on to say: “I am very happy, but at the same time any other decision would had been absurd. The Pakistani sailors have been very active and successful in their struggle to achieve their rights.”

Out of the 19 Pakistanis who have applied for permanent visas, one of them, Masqood Ahmed, has died in Pakistan, following a heart attack.

As we go to print, we still do not know if three other Pakistani workers received a positive response.

The Pakistani sailors worked between 7 and 23 years as stewards on the Birger Jarl (Baltic Star, as the boat was earlier named, before the Panama-registered vessel came under the Swedish flag).

Long struggles

Offensiv/RS have, to the best of our ability, supported the Pakistani workers in their campaigns over several issues over recent years. We aided their victorious struggle for equal pay and conditions which was begun by Talat Butt at the end of the 1990s. Later, we helped in their struggle against redundancies in connection with Birger Jarl sailing under the Swedish flag in 2002. The outcome of this dispute led the workers keeping their jobs, but, at the same time, they became virtual serfs, dependent on the support of the shipping company to annually renew their temporary work permits.

Since last summer, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (RS) (CWI – Sweden), through the Support Committee for Justice on the Birger Jarl has, side by side with SAC, since Seko (the main union) betrayed them, supported the Pakistani workers in their very intense and long-drawn struggle against redundancies and against the discrimination they faced in regard to new EU legislation.

Their protest action included blockades and leafleting at the mooring place of Birger Jarl, in Gamla stan, in Stockholm; petitioning of the Trade and Industry Department; notification to the ombudsman concerning discrimination and petitioning and writing to the immigration office.

Permanent visas mean that the Pakistanis workers are allowed to stay in Sweden and they are no longer tied to a single employer. Now they finally are free to work where they want.

“Now we can look for jobs and bring our families here. All of us are phoning our families and friends at the moment. After 17 years in Sweden, I can’t imagine living in Pakistan, where life today is difficult and dangerous for our children. Our joy today is clouded by the thought of our comrade who has died of a heart attack”, said Tariq Naseem.

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June 2009