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Pakistan: Government clamps down on telecom protesters
LAST WEEKEND, the Pakistani government started a crackdown against telecommunications workers, following the refusal of the nine union-strong Action Committee to be bullied into privatisation.
Khalid Bhatti, national organiser, Trade Union Rights Campaign, Pakistan
Over 400 telecommunication workers have been arrested by police. Paramilitary police forces have raided the homes of union leaders and arrested the relatives of union leaders. This is reminiscent of the tactics of the US army who take relatives as hostages when they raid houses in Iraq.
Yesterday 29 trade union activists were sacked from PTCL, including Haji Khan Bhatti (President Company Lines Staff Union) and Malik Maqbool Hussain (Secretary General Lines Staff Union) and Tanveer Shah for their role in the strike.
This brutal action follows the unilateral government restart of the privatisation process on 18 June and the deployment of the military to take over the running of the telephone exchanges. This restart is in complete disregard of the agreement signed by the government which led to a suspension of the strike on 4 June where they promised the indefinite postponement of privatisation.
In effect, this is a lock-out of the workforce. All workers from grades 1-16 in the industry are barred from entering the telecommunications depots, although management is now allowing workers who are prepared to accept their plans for the industry to come to work.
However, the mood of the workers is solid. They have refused to accept a deal on pay and conditions which the managing director of Pakistan Telecommunications Company Ltd (PTCL) offered in the last couple of days. The value of the new package went up from Rs3.5 billion to Rs5 billion but workers refused to budge on agreeing to these enticements to accept privatisation.
Representatives of the Action Committee have demanded that the government withdraws its decision to restart the privatisation process or face the shut-down of the telecommunications system from 15 June.
In Quetta, Balochistan, telecommunication workers have already taken action against the fibre optic link which is the backbone for much of the system in the province. There are also signs of some frictions within the state in Pakistan over the question of the strike.
It is vital that the government and management are flooded with letters of protest. They will have an effect in holding back the government from making vicious attacks against the telecommunication workers.