The union at the Suki Kinari hydro power construction project in Northern Pakistan has taken preliminary strike action, beginning on 17 October, demanding their employer implements minimum protections under the labour law and pay legal benefits for terminated workers. The strike follows a proposed meeting with management two days before when Labour Department officials – who had been pushing the company to sign an agreement for legal compliance – were prevented from entering the project area.
“This is the fourth major hydro project in the last few years where employers have been given a free rein to ignore the laws of this country,” said Pakistan Federation of Building and Wood Workers (PFBWW) General Secretary Aslam Adil. “Workers have had enough. They are demanding the Government take action to bring this company in line with the law and respect workers’ right to freedom of association.”
The union had been preparing for a strike on 21 October, however management’s refusal to allow Labour Department officials to enter raised major concerns and the meeting was called off. In response the company granted four days leave to most of the workers on the site and demanded workers evacuate their living quarters. Workers have agreed that they will not return to work on 21 October until the company is open for discussions.
Suki Kinari is an 870MW hydro project slated for completion in 2022, and is being built by China Gezhouba Group Corporation (CGGC). PFBWW previously organized the CGGC project Neelum Jhelum hydro power company, and in 2017 co-filed a complaint with the BWI to the ILO Committee of Freedom of Association regarding military intervention in the collective bargaining process, failure to implement the terms of a collective agreement and arbitrary termination of union members. The project is being financed by the Export-Import Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China under a loan agreement with the Government of Pakistan.
“It appears that Chinese construction companies in Pakistan are being given too much freedom to set employment conditions below the minimum legal standards”, said BWI Regional Representative Apolinar Tolentino. “This is not good enough. We demand that CGGC immediately joins PFBWWW at the bargaining to negotiate a resolution to this situation before it spirals out of control.”