Pakistans Sugar Mills:
Workers Face Dismissal and
though this years sugar harvest and production are expected to be
better than last year, and even with an increase in the government subsidised
support price for sugar cane, Pakistans mill workers in the province
of Sindh face an extremely uncertain future. Three years of attacks and
union busting from management has left workers destitute and without secure
mills workers have been confronted with an increasingly harsh pattern
of management tactics. These tactics include the withdrawal of benefits
and facilities mutually agreed to in negotiated agreements, retrenchments
and dismissals, lack of implementation of labour laws, promotion
of workers to officer status to reduce union membership and deny legal
rights, failure to register workers engaged on contract or casual basis
and repression and harassment of trade union officers.
The workers of the Sindh Sugar Mills Trade Unions Federation (SSMTUF)
have experienced a direct assault on the ability to maintain enterprise
unions to defend their rights to jobs and livelihood.
In the last three years 1,200 workers were retrenched from two sugar mills
managed by the Fauji Foundation, which is run by retired military officers.
The management in these mills reduced the wages of workers by more than
50 percent and refused to pay allowances (which are part of the wages).
Workers were paid only their basic salary, which is illegal. Management
also refused to pay bonuses. When the local union challenged these acts
by management at National Industrial Relations Commission (NIRC), despite
a stay order withholding the changes management refused to obey the Commission.
The story is repeated in other mills in the province. In the last two
years more than 50 workers have been retrenched and nearly 200 workers
have been illegally promoted as officers in Mirpur Khas Sugar Mills. Management
uses promotion to prevent mill workers from taking part in
union activities, but the most important aspect of this tactic is that
once workers are promoted they are no longer classified as
workers and are therefore not covered by the law or locally negotiated
agreements. Management thus need not provide legal benefits and facilities
and gains the right to fire promoted workers at any time and
without any reason.
In Ranipur Sugar Mills, all the office bearers of the local union have
been dismissed because they opposed the illegal actions of management.
More than 250 workers were retrenched from Sanghar Sugar Mills in the
last two years while in Habib Sugar Mills, more than 150 workers have
been declared officers without consultation or consent.
The workers and union officers in Shah Murad Sugar Mills are facing a
critical situation. On April 22, 2000 the mills management dismissed 171
workers under the pretext of running losses and restructuring of the mills.
Workers were informed of the mass dismissal through an advertisement issued
in a local newspaper, yet the balance sheet of the company showed healthy
The workers staged a protest, demanding the reinstatement of the dismissed
workers and requested negotiations with the management on the issue. The
union approached the labour department and meetings with the management
were held in the offices of assistant labour director for Hyderabad.
The workers of the mills were very upset with their treatment and maintained
pickets. However, on November 24, 2000 a case of revolt was registered
in the police station against 54 people, which included eleven union office
bearers and eleven mill workers. Police arrested 19 people including the
general secretary of the union. The arrested workers and union officers
remain in gaol and have not been allowed to post bail.
The Sindh Sugar Mills Trade Unions Federation has continuously tried to
bail out the arrested workers. The federation wrote letters to the President
of Pakistan, the Federal Minister for Labour, the Provincial Minister
for Labour and others in this regard. Mr. Basheer Ahmed, General Secretary
of the federation, also raised this issue during a meeting of labour leaders
with the President, General Pervez Musharraf.
The management of the Al Noor Sugar Mills has an ongoing union busting
policy. Close to 80 workers were retrenched before the start of the 2000
crushing season. Many workers were promoted as officers. The union has
continuously protested against managements actions.
On July 3, 2001 the union served a charter of demands to the management,
but management refused to accept it. On July 4, when the union held its
general body meeting to inform workers about the charter of demands, the
management termed this meeting illegal and issued charge sheet and suspension
letters to the officers of the union and some workers. The management
also started to force the workers to sign resignation letters. The management
dismissed 8 union officers, refused to pay arrears of 22 months, locked
the union office and did not transfer the unions dues deducted from the
salaries of the workers. The management also lodged police reports against
the union officers leading to the arrest of five. In accordance with labour
law, the union served a strike notice on July 19, 2001. The case went
to the labour department, however an attempt at conciliation failed.
The continuous intimidation and refusal to treat the sugar mill workers
properly has generated a very high level of frustration among the workers.
Workers understand that the present climate is very delicate and wish
to resolve these problems via negotiation. Yet, any attempt to continue
to harass and bust the unions in the sugar mills can only upset the production
schedule for this years sugar cane processing.
Sindh Sugar Mills Trade Unions Federation is the only provincial
body representing sugar workers in Sindh. The federation at its last meeting
decided to approach the federal labour minister, provincial labour minister
and others demanding a resolution of the conflicts between the owners
and workers of the sugar mills before the new crushing season starts.
If the government of Pakistan allows these attacks to continue it can
only threaten the industry as a whole. Pakistan is a net importer of sugar,
and Pakistanis pay the highest prices for sugar in the region. Any disruption
to the production of local sugar will not only hurt the mill workers,
but the citizens of Pakistan who will be confronted with even higher prices
for sugar. The government of Pakistan cannot remain uninvolved in this
dispute when the basic rights of workers are being so thoroughly undermined.
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