Unilever Rahim Yar Khan: The attacks on workers intensify…The struggle strengthens

Both permanent and temporary workers at Unilever in Pakistan have come under attack from the bosses, who would like to change their status to contract workers, thereby avoiding the payment of medical and other benefits. In defence of their jobs and livelihoods the workers have launched a struggle and called for union solidarity.

The workers at Unilever, a British multinational, are continuing their struggle in Pakistan against oppression and brutal attacks by the capitalists. Instead of accepting the demands of the workers the administration has intensified its attack on the workers. This has infuriated the workers.

The administration has increased police patrols and has brought criminal charges against labour leaders. They are pressurising the workers to stop their protest and are using any and all brutal measures to stop this struggle. Unilever facilities have in effect become a police state where the police can do anything and harass anyone.

Temporary workers at Unilever have a contract of 9 months and they are given bonuses and food provision. 190 of these temporary workers have now been working for more than 11 months and legally they have the right to be made permanent employees.

In pursuit of this right these workers contacted the labour court and got a stay order to continue their work. This hurt the administration as it was an attack on their profits.

To counter this Unilever has contracted a private labour company, Saad Enterprises, along with Lucky Coal Company for a labour force of 500 workers. This will allow the company to abolish temporary labour and promote contract labour.

In terms of the law, these agreements with private labour contractors is illegal because the temporary workers have a stay order from the court and Unilever is obliged to obey this court ruling.

However, the law is a tool in the hands of ruling classes for exploitation. The owners of these private firms are close relatives of the Federal Minister of the Interior, Zafar Warraich, and according to reports the real agreement was made with the minister - the others are only his front men.

The Federal Minister of the Interior is using all the power at his disposal to attack the workers by using the police and other law enforcement institutions.

The temporary workers who got the stay order are being harassed. They were even forced inside the factory to sign termination orders. 80 workers were terrified and they signed the orders, however 310 of them were defiant and they refused to bow down in the face of oppression. Due to this, the contractors and Unilever have closed the gate on these 310 temporary workers. This act is also illegal according to the ruling of the courts.

Unilever, which boasts about abolishing of child labour, is in fact promoting it through contract labour and third party production. They also want to implement contract labour and abolish permanent labour because contract workers have no benefits and insurance.

This is the ugly face of capitalism where 242 permanent workers are working with some 500 contract workers. Now the administration wants to reduce the 242 permanent workers to contract workers, who will then have no medical coverage or other allowances. To this end, the administration is pressurising the union and has tried to split the union. Moreover, the administration has also threatened to close the factory - as they have closed production units prior to this in India, Sri Lanka and other countries.

This entire situation has made the international unity of the working class more important. A general meeting of the Muttahada Labour Federation of all the labour organizations at productive units of Unilever in Pakistan has been called for October 25 in Rahim Yar Khan. The Chairman of Muttahada Labour Federation, Nabi Ahmed, will preside this meeting. Qamar ul Hassan, representative of the International Union of Food (IUF) in Pakistan will also attend this meeting.

The present situation will be discussed in detail at this meeting. Attacks on the Unilever workers in Rahim Yar Khan will be condemned and a strategy will be devised to jointly organise a decisive struggle. If demands are not met by the deadline decided at this meeting, then the union will head for strike action.

The president of the Unilever Employees Union, Khalil Shehzad, General Secretary, Syed Zaman Khan and other office bearers have called for solidarity from other unions in the country and abroad.

Unions such as the Hydro Union of WAPDA, PTCL, Sui Gas, APCA and other trade union have extended their solidarity to the workers of Unilever and have condemned the attacks on the workers. They have also said that if the attacks at Unilever are not stopped they will launch a series of protests against both the Unilever administration and the District administration.

Labour organizations have put banners throughout the whole city in support of the cause of the Unilever workers. After the general meeting, a meeting of all labour organizations will be called by the PTUDC and a joint struggle by all trade unions in the country will be organised.

Comrade Manzoor Ahmed, President of the PTUDC and Member of the National Assembly has condemned the attacks on the workers of Unilever and has expressed solidarity with them.

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