Pakistan / Sindh province: Stop victimization and union busting of women health workers

“We will defend our rights and continue fighting”.

The local health authorities in Digri, District Mir Pur Khas of Sindh province have launched a vicious campaign and witch hunt against the leaders of the Progressive Women’s Health Workers Union – an affiliate of the Progressive Workers Federation of Pakistan. They have in particular targeted Sughran Khaskheli, the main leader of the women health workers. The health authorities are using what-ever means possible to intimidate and frighten the women health workers. They are putting immense pressure on the members of the union and asking them to resign from the union. They are also asking the female health workers to give undertakings that they will not participate in the activities of the union and federation in future. If they fail to comply with this they have been threatened with dismissal.

It is very clear that the local health authorities are feeling threatened by the increasing strength of the Progressive Lady Health Workers Union. The corrupt and inefficient officers of the health department have never previously been confronted with resistance and challenge from the workers against their illegal and corrupt practices. They were used to obtaining money from the women health workers in exchange for receiving monthly reports, payment of the salaries and for the approval of leave. The health workers were forced to give money or gifts to these corrupt officials to get even their basic rights and facilities. When our members started the campaign against this corruption and illegal practices and refused to pay bribes to get their salaries, the women health workers started to contact our members. The Progressive Women Health Workers Union was formed in 2011. It started to organize the health workers. This union won four major battles against the corrupt officials of the health department. The union led a massive protest movement in 2012 against the non- payment of salaries. Hundreds of female health workers took to the streets and blocked the main highway for hours. These protests got a lot of media coverage and the government was forced to pay salaries. This was the first ever protest by female workers in this backward and feudal dominated area of Sindh province. Even the Supreme Court of Pakistan took notice of these female protests and ordered the government to pay the salaries to all the health workers. The union also led some other successful struggles.

These health workers were working for many years as contract workers but after a Supreme Court verdict the government was forced to regularize the services of these health workers. The local health officials again tried to get bribes from these workers to get their services regularized but the workers refused to pay any money. Now the management is issuing warnings to the members and activists of the union to stop their activities or face the music.

The Progressive Health Workers Union organized a big protest demonstration and a rally against this victimization and intimidations. The senior officials in the health department are protecting these corrupt officers. The leaders and the members of the union have refused to bow down to the pressure and are determined to continue the fight for their rights. The union has also challenged the warning letters in the office of Provincial Ombudsman. But it seems that the local health officials have decided to teach a lesson to the leaders and active members of the union.

The Progressive Workers Federation has sent protest letters to the PPP led provincial government and is still waiting for a reply. The federation has made it clear to the provincial government that we will not accept any action against these protesting health workers. We are preparing for the solidarity campaign and nation wide protest movement if the authorities decide to take action. Since our intervention no further action been taken by the health authorities.

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June 2013