Telecom unions under attack in Pakistan
By Farooq Tariq(11\11\2010)
Following a strike at Pakistan
Telecommunication (PTCL) that was brutally suppressed by
the government, a wholesale witch hunt of union
activists is taking place. Over 250 have been suspended
from their jobs and another 280 terminated. Thirty-five
union leaders have been charged under anti-terrorism
laws. All this for demanding a wage increase according
to the agreements signed at the time of PTCL’s
privatization in 2005 and in violation of the PTCL
Re-Organization Act 1996 Clause (35) & (36).
In April 2006 Emirates Telecommunication
Corporation, commonly called Etisalat, assumed control
of Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited – part of
the $2.6 billion deal to buy a 26 percent stake in PTCL.
It was agreed at the time that all the
61000 PTCL workers would enjoy the same wages as public
employees. Their wages would be increased at the time of
government notification and Etisalat would respect all
Etisalat management has broken a number
of promises. In 2005, management stated that none of the
PTCL workers would lose their jobs after privatization;
“surplus” workers would be sent to countries where
Etisalat operates. Yet in four years, over 35000 workers
have lost their jobs.
In June 2010, after a record price hike,
and under immense working-class pressure, the PPP
government announced a 50 percent increase on basic pay.
But Etisalat did not implement the wage increase at PTCL.
When all the main four unions united and demanded in
writing that management respect the agreement, their
demand was ignored.
Although the PTCL revenue for 2009/2010
stood at 59.37 billion Rupees, this legal demand
required approximately one billion Rupees per annum.
On 2nd August
2010, the PTCL unions decided to organize a national
strike for two hours each day in order to press for the
wage increase. All 26000 workers acted positively. On
August 16, the workers at PTCL escalated the action to a
PTCL management offered a 30 percent wage
increase with another 20 percent increase linked to
worker productivity by December 2010. Yet management’s
arrogant attitude is “The productivity of a worker
becomes zero when they are active in unions.” Workers
deserved, under the law, a 50 percent increase as of
June. Management’s ploy was rejected by the workers and
their unions. They
saw the offer as an attempt to cheat the workers and
break the power of the unions. They also knew that the
management will not increase the wages as promised and
wanted a clean deal not linked to any conditionality.
The role of “independent” media during
The telecom sector was nearly paralyzed
because of the complete strike; thousands of telephone
lines were out of order. But management would not agree
to sit at the table with the unions and discuss their
demands. For most of the “independent” media this was
not considered “breaking news.” Meanwhile Etisalat
management doubled and tripled advertising in the
corporate media. Hence the media did not report on the
strike and massive worker demonstrations.
Most of the reports about the strike
were highly negative. Journalists friendly to the
workers explained that all their strike coverage had to
be cleared by the company’s advertisement departments.
Apparently PTCL advertising increased tenfold during the
strike. It was no accident that Ufone, PTCL’s mobile
service, blanketed their ads continuously over the
private television channel.
The PTCL website (http://ptcl.com.pk/mediac.php?NID=132)
reveals at least 139 print designs of products
advertised in the media.
PTCL management bribed the police for
On 3rd September,
the striking union leaders met Khurshid Shah, the
Federal Minister of Labour, and asked him to intervene
to end the strike. Eid ul Fitre was approaching; the
full-force strike had entered its 17th day.
The labor minister told them that within three days the
main demand – a 50 percent wage increase – would be met.
At strike camp, the union leaders happily announced that
workers could go home, that the demands would be met.
However, management had other plans.
Unwilling to pay one billion Rupees to increase wages,
PTCL Management opted to spend another 350 million
Rupees to crack down the legitimate peaceful strike of
low-paid employees. They bribed the police and other
officials to proceed with a crackdown.
By the evening of 3rd September,
hundreds of policemen were mobilized to attack the
strike camp. One of the Superintendents of Police,
Faisal Memon, told police constables responsible for the
subsequent beating of worker leaders that the resulting
injuries should be severe enough so none should be able
to walk to jail. Dozens of strikers were rounded up and
brought to the police station. Over 50 were arrested,
with three central leaders booked under anti-terrorist
laws and 35 others booked under 7ATA (Anti Terrorist
Arrests continued for the next 24 hours
as homes were raided. Workers were arrested at police
check posts in different parts of the city. This
wholesale repression of the strikers clearly involved
the collaboration of the police with Etisalat. Yet by
Monday, with the strike crushed, there was little still
news of the brutal events aired by Pakistan’s
“independent” media. No support was forthcoming from the
main political parties.
As a condition for receiving their wages,
PTCL workers were forced to sign a statement
disassociating them from the strike. With Eid
approaching and their leaders arrested, most signed.
Over 250 workers were terminated and the climate of
The trade Unions in PTCL
PTCL management has had a history of
hostility toward trade unions. According to both
national labour laws and practice, a referendum for
recognizing union collective bargaining should be held
every two years. During the last 12 years, only three
referendums have been held in PTCL: the first in 1998,
the second in 2004, under General Musharaf’s
dictatorship, and the third in 2010.
PTCL management has always interfered in
the referendum process by using all its resources to
oppose a positive outcome. Even the National Industrial
Relation Commission, the body that conducts the
referendum, is intimidated. Every year the workers have
to go on strike in order to push management into
accepting their demands. And every year, management uses
a variety of repressive measures before finally agreeing
to some demands. The only unique aspect of the process
in 2010 is that management’s response was even more
brutal. This was possible because of police complicity.
PTCL privatization experience
Following the crushing of a 2005 strike
against the privatization of PTCL, when the Musharraf
military dictatorship ordered the army to occupy all the
telephone exchanges across Pakistan,
Etisalat (UAE) won management control
through the purchase of 26 percent shares.
The deal between the dictatorship and
Etisalat has been recently evaluated as “unclean” by the
chief justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Most of Etisalat’s lucrative promises at
the time of privatization -- to bring in new investment,
technology, training, and with no job loss, in fact
creating new jobs, better services and reduced rates for
customers -- have not been realized.
Etisalat also forced the government to
accept payment in 10 installments. Before privatization
the PTCL was one of the most profitable public sector
institutions with an average annual profit of over 30
Now Etisalat (UAE) wants to purchase 25
percent more shares and take total control over the
institution while breaking the back of the workers.
In 2009/2010, the PTCL total revenue
reached nearly 60 billion Rupees yet management claims a
net profit of only 9 billion Rupees. It is hard to
believe profitability has declined. At the time of the
privatization total revenue was 65 billion and net
profit nearly 30 billion.
Further, in 2005, PTCL employed 61000
workers while today there are less than half. There may
be two obvious explanations for the “declining profit”:
fiddling with the figures and the high cost of top
management personnel. According to one estimate, the top
800 receive more than the total wages of the 26000
Since the September repression of the
workers struggle PTCL, management has stopped the annual
bonuses for more than 2,000 employees and refused to pay
wages to more than 500 others. Hassan Muhammad Rana,
Secretary General of Pakistan Telecom Employees Union,
and several other leading union activists were
unlawfully dismissed. Approximately another 250
employees have been terminated in clear violation
of Pakistan Labour Laws.
The National Industrial Relation
Commission suspended the termination orders and declared
these unfair labour practices, but management has not
accepted these orders.
What to do now?
Given the strike’s defeat, workers are
reluctant to struggle. In this environment, how is it
possible to move forward to protect workers’ rights and
fight the repression of the union’s activists? On 5th November
a joint meeting of activists from different unions in
PTCL, leaders of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF)
and the Labour Party Pakistan discussed this question.
After a three-hour meeting, it was agreed that it is
necessary to revive the confidence of the PTCL workers.
In this context, fighting the legal
battle to defend the framed worker leaders is central.
This requires the support from other trade unions,
social movements and political parties. It also means
launching an international appeal for solidarity.
Projected are the following:
Multi-Party PTCL Workers Solidarity Conference to be
held in Lahore on 25thNovember
by the Anti Privatization Alliance working closely
with the National Trade Union Federation and Labour
public meeting of PTCL workers, trade unions and
activists from political parties to be held on 3rd
December in Lahore. After consultation with the
relevant unions and LPP activist’s similar actions
will be organized in Sindh, Khaiber Pukhtoon Khawa
provinces and Islamabad.
national and international appeal will be launched
this month. It will demand the reinstatement of
the 530 terminated and suspended PTCL workers, for
the withdrawal of false cases against worker
leaders, for a 50 percent wage increase with payment
of the agreed-upon bonuses, and for the
renationalization of PTC.
We need your support
We need you support. Please contact us
for more details. Please forward this information to all
your networks, email lists and websites. Pass
resolutions to condemn Etisalat’s ant-worker practices.
For more information contact:
Muhammad Rana, Secretary General Pak Telecom Employees
Mehmood, Director, Labour Education Foundation, 0321
Mansoor, Deputy General Secretary, National Trade Union
Maqbool, President PTCL Lines Staff Union,