Pakistan: Thousands of telecom workers on indefinite strike

Solidarity vital

[For update on activity of Workers’ Relief Committee see TURCP web-site]

More than 26,000 telecom workers in Pakistan have been on indefinite strike since 16 August. They are demanding a 50% increase in wages as announced by the government for the public sector. These workers in the semi-privatised telecom industry started their protest campaign and partial strike earlier in August, but the telecom authorities refused to accept the demand.

The workers announced their indefinite strike at a massive rally in Islamabad where thousands of workers from all over the country participated. The strike is still rock solid and protest demonstrations are taking place. It is getting wide media coverage in all the country’s main newspapers and TV channels, with the main English and Urdu national newspapers printing the strike news on their front pages.

PTCL is run by Etisalat, a UAE-based telecom company. The present dispute started when the management announced they would increase wages, trying to fool the protesting workers with an increase of 50%. In reality the increase was not more than 20% of the current wage level. The Pakistani government announced a 50% increase on the existing pay of public sector workers, but the PTCL management merely announced an increase to be calculated on the starting basic pay.

This meant a big shortfall for the telecom workers. For instance, if a public sector worker gets an increase of £40 a month, then the telecom workers will get only £15 to £20. This triggered a wave of anger amongst the workers and they forced the leadership to take action.

Continued intimidation

Now the Etisalat-led PTCL management is using every means possible to sabotage the strike. Management went to the Lahore High Court to stop this strike action and to get it declared violent and illegal. But the High Court refused, and directed the management to settle the issue through negotiations. They also directed striking workers not to adopt violent means to press their demands. The High Court also ordered management to refrain from any action against peaceful protesting workers.

In clear violation of the court’s orders, the management has now started to intimidate the strike leaders and union activists. They are stopping the salaries of strike leaders and activists, which would normally be paid, and are also issuing orders not to pay the Eid (holiday) allowance to striking workers.

The management is trying to create fear among the striking workers that if they continue the strike they will be left with no money on the coming religious and cultural festival, so they should not participate in the strike. The management has also issued ‘show cause’ notices to the striking leaders for announcing this strike, which management considers illegal. The management is also threatening the strikers that it will call the paramilitary forces to crush the strike and criminal cases will also be registered against them.

Solidarity needed

The Trade Union Rights Campaign (TURCP) and Progressive Workers’ Federation of Pakistan (PWFP) fully support the striking telecom workers. This is a just struggle for their basic demands and rights. We are trying to build solidarity for the striking workers in the labour movement in the country and to organise pickets in different cities involving other unions and federations.

Addresses for protests:

1. Mr Walid Irshaid, President PTCL Pakistan:

2. Mr Syed Mazhar, Senior Executive and vice president HR:

3. CEO Etisilat International:

Copies and solidarity messages to:

We appeal to all trade unions, union activists and workers for solidarity not only in Pakistan but also internationally. Your support and solidarity can play an important role in the final outcome of this struggle. At a time of enormous social misery because of the horrific floods, a victory for the strike would give an enormous boost to the morale and confidence not only of the telecom workers but of the working class in general.

We demand:

  • Stop intimidations and actions to sabotage the strike!
  • A 50% increase in current wages as announced by the government.
  • Release the illegally stopped salaries and Eid allowance.
  • Increase the Eid allowance to 30,000 rupees (£270).
  • Renationalise the PTCL under democratic workers’ control and management.

Syed Fazal Abbas, Secretary General TURCP and PWFP

Azam Janjua, Vice president PWFP and Organiser TURCP, Islamabad

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August 2010