Fragmentation and Confronting Restructuring - Pakistan's First National
Sugar Workers' Federation Emerges
elected representatives of the Pakistan Sugar Mills Workers' Federation,
sitting from left: Chaudhry Samiullah (Senior Vice President), Abdus Salam
Memon (Secretary General), Gul Rehman (President), Malik Lal Khan (Chairman);
standing from left: Abdul Majeed Leghari (Organiser), Mohammad Akber Arain
(Finance Secretary), Aslam Wafa (Deputy Secretary General) and Muslim
Khan (Publicity Secretary).
workers have long been weakened by fragmentation and disunity coupled
with a class of employers who have more often than not preferred
to sideline unions from workplaces rather than negotiate.
Furthermore, Pakistan's sugar sector has serious problems of over
capacity, meaning unions face continuing pressures from sugar mill
owners over productivity, job losses and even plant closures. With
Pakistan's government making tentative steps towards liberalising
its economy through reductions in tariffs and other protective measures,
there is little doubt that the forces of globalisation in the form
of foreign investment and increased sugar imports will soon come
to affect the sugar sector. Coping with, or even overcoming, these
problems is all but impossible for a divided trade union movement.
Globally, the sugar sector is under the enormous pressure of competition
and restructuring - in every major sugar-producing country across
the world, workers are being forced to work harder, for less pay
and with decreasing employment opportunities. Where trade unions
are divided, they are encouraged to compete against each other regionally,
nationally and globally in a race to the bottom, where conditions
and rights are expected to be bargained away.
In this context the national convention of sugar mill workers' unions
held in Karachi from 17 to 18 May 2003 attended by over 110 delegates,
is an important change in direction for Pakistan's sugar unions.
At this meeting, sugar mill unions and their representatives founded
the Pakistan Sugar Mill Workers' Federation (PSMWF). The emergence
for the first time of a united federation of sugar mill unions in
Pakistan signals an important and historic step in creating a labour
movement capable of serving Pakistan's sugar workers and delivering
to trade union members secure jobs and workers' rights, with the
possibility of wages and conditions which allow for dignity and
Delegates at the convention raised a number of concerns in regard
to recent efforts by the national government to change labour regulations
as set out in the Industrial Relations Ordinance (IRO) of 2002.
Delegates emphasised the need for the recommendations of the Tripartite
Labour Conference and the Workers-Employers Bilateral Council of
Pakistan (WEBCOP) to be implemented. In addition, in the convention
undertook a set of important acts of solidarity by:
· calling for the reinstatement of retrenched sugar
· demanding that workers in agriculture and fisheries
be allowed to unconditionally exercise freedom of association rights
(presently denied to agriculture and fisheries workers in Pakistan);
· calling for the government to provide relief to
the thousands of small sugar farmers in the province of Sindh facing
severe crisis due to shortages of water; and,
· expressing deep concern over the situation at the
Pearl Continental Hotel, Karachi, where workers continue to be punished
due to trade union activities.
Convention delegates heard messages of solidarity and congratulations
from sugar unions and the international trade union federation representing
sugar workers, the IUF.
Ron Oswald, General Secretary of the IUF, on behalf of the IUF's
global membership, stated that;
...by coming together to launch a national trade union federation
for sugar workers, you are taking the indispensable step in building
the organisational strength which is necessary to effectively confront
employers and the government and more effectively defend and enhance
your members' needs and interests. We
wish you every success in this crucial endeavour, and hope that
the new federation can serve as a model for the labour movement
in Pakistan to help overcome its historic divisions.
Anthony, National Secretary of the Fiji Sugar and General Workers' Union,
...to stand united because that is the only way to protect and ensure
that the workers in the sugar industry are full partners and are given
their fair share of benefits that are derived from the industry...Unity
is critical in also ensuring that workers are treated fairly and with
Shorten, National Secretary of the Australian Workers' Union (AWU),
...now more than ever it's important that workers in our industries
are organised, and that national unions around the world share their
experiences...The AWU hopes that your convention is conducted in a spirit
of comradeship, goodwill and optimism, and that Australian and Pakistani
sugar workers are able to work together on common issues - as well as
compare notes about our cricket teams and how the next test may turn
Ludwig, President of the AWU also sent a massage of congratulations.
Ma Wei Pin, IUF Asia and Pacific Regional Secretary, in his message
to the convention, noted that under the the pressures of corporate-driven
globalisation and restructuring,
sugar workers' unions are faced with the prospect of being
marginalised by mill owners and ignored as management goes about
making drastic changes or else regarded as a negotiating counterpart.
Weak local unions are easily ignored; in some cases they may be
used simply as window dressing to show 'consultation'. In order
for a union to be able to represent members' interest and negotiate
changes changes with management, it needs, firstly,
to be knowledgeable and well-supported by workers at the local
level. Secondly, it needs to be backed up effectively by a strong
national federation of sugar workers that has a national strategy
for the sugar industry and is well-supported by a majority of
local sugar workers' unions throughout the country. International
solidarity, as always, is a critical ingredient. Unless sugar
workers and unions are able to re-organise themselves effectively
in order to negotiate seriously on workers' behalf as mills and
all other sectors of the industry undergo restructuring, the future
will be organised entirely for those who have the benefit of capital.
Convention delegates heard responses to their deliberations from
the Secretary of the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PaSMA),
Umer Latif, and the Convener of WEBCOP, Ahsanullah Khan. Both
welcomed the formation of Pakistan Sugar Mill Workers' Federation
and said the employers should be happy to negotiate with an industrial
trade unions federation to meet the challenges of corporate-driven
globalisation and to save the national industry.
trade union leaders Nabi Ahmed, Basheer Ahmed and the Director
of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER),
Karamat Ali, spoke to convention delegates. The convention decided
that the provincial chapters of the federation will be formed
within next three months by constituent unions.
Delegates adopted a constitution and elected as office bearers
Mr. Gul Rehman as President, Malik Lal Khan as Chairman, Abdus
Salam Memon as Secretary General, Chaudhry Samiullah as Senior
Vice President, Aslam Wafa as Deputy Secretary General, Abdul
Majeed Leghari as Organiser, Akber Arain as Finance Secretary
and Muslim Khan as Publicity Secretary.
demand amendments to IRO [Source: Dawn 19 May 2003]
Busting in Pakistans Sugar Mills: Workers Face Dismissal
and Illegal Detention
asianfoodworker.net 29 October 2001]