Day 20 – On How to Demand Implementation

On our way to PILER passing truckstops and tent camps

From 25 percent during the time of its foundation under Jinnah, Pakistan now holds a mere 1 percent of labour force with the lowest amount of unionisation in the world. We met PILER’s director, Karamat Ali, who is a key player, since the last four decades, working towards implementing unionisation in a country with a severe lack of social security and proper distribution of minimum wages.

Karamat began by gining us a brief history of the movement from the time when all government officials, including the police and the non-uniformed employees of army had a union.

Pakistan’s Institute for Labour, Education and Research (PILER) is a building in Gulshan-e-Maymar, a township project built in 1980 equipped with a hostel, conference hall, library and spacious offices  – all made possible with contributions from Karamat Ali’s international partners, well-wishing friends and sponsors. And all in support to gain back and implement rules and regulations which date back to the time of Jinnah.

After nationalisation Karamat Ali played an integral role in the labour movement of the 1970’s and a key role in linking up these movements with regional and global counterparts of labour and peace movements in Pakistan. Up until now militarisation is one of the biggest burdens the union leader has to deal with.

Through PILER the labour and development activist has installed a research and training programme with workshops, courses and advocacy activities. The programme instructs workers on how to demand improvements on the labour standard. The issue again is not the law itself but its implementation on health and safety regulations at work places, labour inspections in factories, and women welfare issues.

Karamat Ali was engaged to negociate in the trial against the German garment buyer KIK in order to get compensation payment to the victims families of the Baldia Factory where on 11 September 2012 more than 250 workers died and more than 50 got injured in a fire at a garment factory in Karachi. Although KIK has initially paid one million US-Dollar for immediate relief up until now KIK refuses to fulfill commitments of long-term compensation, which had been agreed earlier.

The Pakistani government does not allow workers to organise themselves. Whereas nearly 80 percent of the workers are hired through third-party contracts which do not contain any labours’ rights. So it looks like a boycott of the state and the employers against the worker’s organisation. Our final question before we left PILER to accompany Karamat Ali to attend the demonstrations in front of the press club: Where does he gain his resilient attitude in a fight that reminds on the battle between David and Goliath?

Memorials for the 250 victims who died in the fire in the Baldia Factory due to the working conditions of German’s down-below garment producer KIK. The memorial is a donation of VASL artists and was part of the Karachi Biennale 2017.

Back on the road to the Pressclub

Pupils on demonstration in front of the Pressclub


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