Pakistan: Victory for KESC workers

4,500 sacked workers reinstated

After a five-day sit-in outside the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) headquarters, thousands of workers forced the management to reinstate 4,500 sacked workers.

Thousands of workers are celebrating their hard-fought victory. It is a big defeat for the management, who wanted to slash thousands of jobs and to make massive cuts.

On Sunday night, after intense deliberations and the government’s intervention, the KESC withdrew the order to sack 4,500 employees.

After talks with the KESC management, Water and Power Minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, told a press conference that the sacked workers could resume duty from today (Monday 14/02/11).

Showing a notification issued by KESC chief executive Tabish Gohar, the minister said that the power utility had already formally withdrawn its decision to sack the employees.

The KESC decision to sack the workers to ‘cut cost’ had sparked anger and forced workers to protest and organise a four days’ and five nights’ sit-in outside the KESC head office in Gizri.

The breakthrough came as a surprise, since the talks between the representatives of the federal and provincial governments and the management of the KESC earlier in the day had failed to produce any results.

Talking to The News, Amir Nawab, Sindh labour minister, said that the KESC officials had come up with some options on resolving the issue, whereas the same people had not been even willing to listen to the government’s point of view a day earlier.

One of those options was a postponement of the cutback for 45 days during which time the company would try to make the so-called golden handshake scheme more attractive for the employees.

“The government, however, remained firm on its stand, demanding of the KESC management to reinstate the employees immediately as their act of sacking them had been illegal and immoral,” Amir Nawab added.

As the stand-off between the government and the KESC continued, the power supply situation deteriorated in certain areas of the city as complaints of consumers were not being addressed.

Frustrated by the situation, residents of different areas took to the streets on Saturday night, disrupting the flow of traffic in protest against the Power Company. There were fears that, if the crisis was not resolved promptly, the protests would grow, exacerbating the law and order situation in the city.

The KESC claimed that legal experts had advised against the reversal. However, the management maintained that it could extend the date of expiry of the Voluntary Severance Scheme (VSS) offer for another 45 days with effect from 15 January.

It made it clear that, while the affected people will be paid the salary and will be allowed to avail of medical facilities for the extended period, the management was not prepared to take them back on the job.

It may be pointed out that the cost of the VSS settlement to the KESC was around Pakistani Rs6 billion (US$ 70.71 million), but the cost of settlement of matter with sacked workers would be around Pakistani Rs4 billion.

Not accepting the KESC’s arguments, the workers committee made it clear that KESC must reinstate the workers first and only after that can other details be worked out.

The committee also pointed out to the KESC management that it has neither improved services nor reduced line losses and load shedding, which are rising and causing law and order problems.

Due to the hardening of KESC management’s attitude, a mood for nationalisation of the utility was developing. The government was losing patience with the privatised management ’s decision to make cuts. It has created a serious law and order situation and threatened industrial and commercial activity in the city. There were indications that the government was also considering intervening in the affairs of the power utility.

This is an important victory for KESC workers and will boost their courage and confidence. This victory is the result of the courageous and determined struggle of the workers. The government and political parties intervened only when they realised that workers would not accept these sackings and were willing to sacrifice everything to win the battle.

The government was forced to intervene because of the immense pressure that workers built up through their struggle. It is a key victory for the workers and must be celebrated.

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February 2011