13 Sep 2017 Ferado

Workers protest for wages in Bangkok

Nearly hundred Myanmar employees working on a construction site in Bangkok, according to the Memorandum of Understanding, protested for their labour rights and full wages.

The employers agreed to all their demands on September 11, according to the Thai based migrant right group AAC.

“We had no rights to talk about wages and we can’t speak Thai language. So, we had to work here for a long time without being fully paid” a female construction worker said to The Myanmar Times on Sunday.

AAC and she both told The Myanmar Times that all female workers are getting about 200 baht as daily wages whereas male construction workers get about 260 baht as daily wages. 310 baht has been regarded as the minimum daily wages in labour law.

They added that workers have to work without holidays and they are not paid double wages for worked holiday; they are not paid for extra hours either.

As a result, all Myanmar construction workers went on strike on September 8 and reported the ongoing violation of labour laws to AAC.

“Today, the employer promised to give full salaries and full overtimes wages to the workers by signing a contract in front of agencies officials, AAC, and Myanmar embassy officials” AAC’s member Ko Nay Lin Thu told The Myanmar Times on Sunday.

He also said that the employer promised not to cut off the wages of employees who are on leave period, which is a practice employers would do in the past.

“The Thai employers agreed to all demands. The demands were simply the labour rights enshrined in Thai labour laws. Workers had to ask for it,” said AAC’s member Ko Nay Lin Thu.

All the workers involved have been sent by three oversea employment agencies over two years, under the MoU between the two countries. According to the labour contracts of the MoU, every worker must be paid baht 310 as daily wages and must be paid Baht 58 for any extra-hour, migrant right group said.

“Thai employer solved the problem by signing an agreement to obey the labour rights according to the MoU. All workers will resume work shortly” U Kyaw Zaw, general joint secretary of Myanmar Oversea Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF) told The Myanmar Times on Sunday.

13 Sep 2017 Ferado

Four coal miners die in Pakistan

The mine safety crisis in Pakistan continues, as at least four workers have been killed due to accumulation of poisonous gas in a coalmine in Quetta’s Sanjdi area on 8 September 2017. According to reports today, another three workers have died under similar circumstances in a coalmine in the Harnai area.

Pakistan’s coalmines are some of the most dangerous workplaces in the world.

In the absence of safe working conditions, there is a frequent loss of lives. On 8 September, poisonous gas suddenly filled the space deep inside the mine, killing four workers and critically injuring two more.

In the recent past IndustriALL affiliates reported many mine accidents and called on the government of Pakistan to improve mine safety.

Sultan Muhammad Khan, President of IndustriALL Pakistan Council (IPC) and secretary general of Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation (PCMLF) said:

“We strongly condemn these avoidable deaths. The government must place the lives of mine workers above profit. We call upon the government to take immediate steps to improve safety in Pakistan’s mines.”

Glenn Mpufane, IndustriALL mining director said:

“The Pakistani government’s continuing negligence is leading to frequent deaths of mine workers. Pakistani mines are turning into graves. IndustriALL reiterates our demand that Pakistan should immediately ratify and implement ILO Convention 176 on Health and Safety in Mines.”

13 Sep 2017 Ferado

Azerbaijan: IFJ/EFJ welcome release of Mehman Aliyev and Alexander

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev pardoned Russian travel blogger Alexander Lapshing on Monday 11 September. He was arrested in Minsk in December 2016 and extradited to Azerbaijan, after the Supreme Court in Belarus decided to send him to Baku despite objections from Moscow. Lapshin was accused of illegally visiting Nagorno-Karabakh, the disputed territory between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and calling for independence of the region.

The second journalist, Mehman Aliyev, editor-in-chief of the Turan news agency, has been released from pretrial detention the same day, on condition that he will not leave the country until his trial at an undetermined date. He was charged by the Azerbaijani authorities in August 2017 on allegations of tax evasion and abuse of powers.

EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez called on the authorities to drop all charges against Mehman Aliyev. He reminded that 9 journalists and bloggers are still behind bars in Azerbaijan: Nijat Aliyev, Araz Guliyev, Seymur Hazi, Mehman Huseynov, Fikrat Faramazoglu, Afghan Mukhtarli, Aziz Orujov, Rashad Ramazanov and Afgan Sadigov.

13 Sep 2017 Ferado

Five years on, Baldia factory fire case still at pre-trial stage

KARACHI: As the survivors, victims’ families and rights activists on Sep 11 paid homage to the 260 workers who were killed in the Baldia factory fire on Sept 11, 2012, the case is still at the pre-trial stage before an antiterrorism court as the court has not yet indicted the suspects.

The case was fixed before ATC-VII inside the Central Prison Karachi on Sep 11 and the court provided copies of documentary evidence to the suspects as required under Section 265-C (supply of statements and documents to the accused) of the Criminal Procedure Code and fixed Sept 25 for indictment.

Meanwhile, the court also reserved its order on acquittal applications of two gatekeepers of the ill-fated industrial unit till next hearing while the trial court also received an order from the Sindh High Court, directing it to expedite the trial and submit a progress report of every hearing.

According to the prosecution, more than 250 workers were burnt alive when the multistorey garment factory building was set on fire in Baldia Town in 2012.

Initially, owner of the factory Abdul Aziz Bhaila, and his two sons, Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila, a general manager and three gatekeepers were chargesheeted for their alleged negligence.

However, the case took a turn in February 2015 when Rangers submitted a joint investigation team (JIT) report in the Sindh High Court, which revealed that the factory was set on fire after its owners failed to pay ‘protection money’. Subsequently, the re-investigation of the case was ordered in March 2015 through a JIT.

In March last year, the police through a progress report informed the court that the factory fire was a planned terrorist act and the JIT had recommended that a new case be registered under the anti-terrorism law and proposed then chief of the MQM Karachi Tanzeemi Committee Hammad Siddiqui, his alleged frontman and then Baldia Town sector in-charge Abdul Rehman alias Bhola, Hyderabad-based businessmen brothers Ali Hasan Qadri and Umer Hasan Qadri, Dr Abdul Sattar, Zubair alias Charya and others as accused in it.

However, after a lengthy re-investigation, police filed a supplementary investigation report in August last year in which they only chargesheeted Hammad Siddiqui, Abdul Rehman and their three to four unknown accomplices and did not send the 13 other suspects, including those proposed by the JIT, for trial.

But the court had put all discharged men in the list of the accused by observing that the owners/manager had ordered the closure of the gates while others abetted the crime one way or another by extorting money on the pretext of distributing it among the victim families. Later, the court recalled its order regarding the inclusion of the owners as accused as the prosecution said they were the key witnesses of the case.

In December last year, Abdul Rehman alias Bhola was brought back after his arrest in Bangkok through Interpol, and he recorded his confessional statement before a judicial magistrate and stated that he, with Zubair alias Charya and others, set the factory ablaze on the instructions of Hammad Siddiqui as the factory owners had refused to pay the demanded protection money and ‘partnership’ in the factory.

In April, police filed a supplementary charge sheet against Abdul Rehman and did not name the MQM lawmaker Rauf Siddiqui as accused for want of sufficient evidence.

The suspect also said in his confession that after the incident Rauf Siddiqui allegedly got a case registered against the owners of the industrial unit and then the suspect said that he came to know that Rauf and Hammad had received Rs40 million to Rs50m from the owners to tone down the case against them, it added.

The supplementary report further said that sufficient evidence was not found against the MQM MPA during the investigation, adding that he joined the investigation and denied all allegations.

The IO also enlisted Qadri brothers, Zubair, Dr Abdul Sattar Khan and Iqbal Adib Khanum as accused in the supplementary charge sheet for allegedly using the money allegedly extorted from the factory owners on the pretext of compensation for victims and showed Hammad as an absconder.
Call for justice

Still hoping for justice, the survivors, victims’ families and activists on Monday paid homage to the 260 workers killed in the Baldia factory blaze five years ago.

The Ali Enterprises Factory Fire Affectees Association (AEFFAA) and the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) organised a gathering outside the ill-fated factory to resolve that their struggle for justice would continue.

The workers stressed that the government take measures to ensure health and safety at factories so that others were not killed the way their loved ones had been.

Speakers at the gathering lamented that the state had failed to deliver justice to the victims and made a mockery of the blood of the deceased workers by relieving the factory owners of the charges.

They said there was no emergency exit at the factory and the only gate used for movement was locked after the fire broke out. The absence of fire alarms, they added, also multiplied the casualties.

“Unfortunately,” said Saeeda Khatoon, “the government and other authorities have not learnt any lesson from the tragedy; as we speak, most factories are similarly dangerous as Ali Enterprises was then.”

Commenting on the Sindh government announcement to commemorate September 11 as health and safety day, they said until reforms were made to make factories better and secure workplaces, nothing could improve.
Minister’s pledge

Sindh Labour Minister Nasir Shah claimed the Pakistan Peoples Party had always been with the victims of the incident and would rehabilitate the families for which “all possible measures would be taken”.

He said a committee was being constituted to look into the issues. He said no influential person would be spared and culprits involved in the tragedy would be dealt with severely.

He promised that the facilities and assistance by SESSI/EOBI, which the speakers indicated were stalled, would continue.

He said the labour ministry had prepared a draft legislation to protect workers and safeguard their rights at the workplace to prevent such incidents in future.

International Labour Organisation (ILO) country director Ingrid Christensen paid tribute to the victims and said the ILO was continuously working to protect workers and prevent such incidents in Pakistan and at the international level. “This is a wake-up call for all of us to take positive measures and implement laws at workplace.”

Secretary for labour Rasheed Solangi highlighted the salient features of the Safety Occupational and Health Bill, which would be passed by the Sindh Assembly “very soon”.

Speakers at a seminar said international and local brands and their manufacturers were directly responsible for such accidents in factories.

“All of them are responsible for violating labour laws,” said Nasir Mansoor, deputy secretary general of the NTUF, adding that workers had been stripped of their rights and were being used as modern slaves.

The speakers said most factories did not allow workers to form unions, forced them to work beyond eight-hour shifts, did not issue them contracts nor registered them with the social security and pension institutions.

The AEFFAA representatives said the German company KiK, which procured most products made at Ali Enterprise, had paid $5.15 million to the ILO after reaching an agreement with IndustriALL Global Union and Clean Clothes Campaign in Geneva last year.

They criticised and rejected the ILO proposal to pay them the compensation in instalments as low as Rs2,800 a month. They termed it a conspiracy to create division among the victims’ families and they would not succumb to it.

Describing the ordeal faced by the affected families, they said most parents were without any support after the EOBI stopped paying them pension on behalf of their children. Addressing the government, they said: “What [should] the parents do now?”

They demanded the ILO pay the families lump sum amounts, the EOBI must issue parents the pension their whole life, a workers’ training centre be built on the site of the factory, proper mechanism of labour inspection at factories must be implemented, gratuity and group insurance cases pending with the commissioner must be decided immediately; and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, real estate tycoon Malik Riaz and Sindh government must fulfil the promises of compensation they had made to the victims.
Vigil held

The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) organised a candlelight vigil outside the Karachi Press Club in remembrance of the Baldia factory fire victims in which representatives of civil society organisations, trade unions and rights activists took part.

The participants were carrying banners and placards demanding provision of occupational health and safety facilities in factories and arrest of the culprits behind the country’s worst industrial disaster.

13 Sep 2017 Ferado

Boston College’s Ph.D. Student Working Class Heroes Wrapping Up Their Union Vote

As Boston College grad workers complete their voting in their union election, second year Ph.D. student Michael Bailey says he’s excited to be a part of this battle to get a union.

[Michael Bailey]: “I myself come from a working class family. I’ve worked in a factory the summers when I was an undergrad. So I’m just very familiar with the labor movement and the state that it’s in today is disheartening.

So being a part, even if it’s at a university and not a traditional site of union battles, it nevertheless feels right to me. And I want to be part of this struggle.”

Despite having an endowment of $2 billion Boston College took away some of the benefits grad workers had, triggering the union organizing effort.