Not fit for print? On May 1st 2008, the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) sought to publish an open letter to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour in the newspapers of Pakistan.
The letter concerned the on-going denial of trade union rights at the Karachi Pearl Continental (PC) Hotel.
The Karachi PC Hotel is part of a chain of six luxury hotels across Pakistan owned by Sadruddin Hashwani, one of the country’s richest individuals, who, via the Hashoo Group conglomerate, controls investments in hotels, pharmaceuticals, cotton trading, mining, property development and manufacturing.
The IUF sought to have the open letter published as a paid advertisement – all the newspapers approached by the IUF refused.
No reasons were given for the refusal.
The IUF sought legal advice before approaching the newspapers on the content of the letter and it was deemed fit for publication.
Despite the refusal, the letter was delivered to representatives of the Government of Pakistan on May 1st and at the same time a message from the IUF regarding the open letter was delivered live on national television.
The letter in full follows:
30 April 2008
Mr Yousuf Raza Gillani
The Honourable Prime Minister of Pakistan
Mr Khursheed Shah
The Honourable Minister of Labour, Manpower & Overseas Pakistanis
On behalf of the members of the International Union of Foodworkers (a global trade union federation representing 11 million workers worldwide, including workers in Pakistan), allow me to offer our congratulations on the formation of Pakistan’s new democratic government.
The results of the recent election were a clear demonstration that the vast majority of Pakistan’s citizens yearn for a democracy which can bring peace, justice and the defence and realisation of their rights.
The recent announcements of your government’s intention to repeal anti-labour legislation and to increase the minimum wage are therefore extremely welcome and I have no doubt that workers in Pakistan look forward eagerly to the implementation of these changes.
It is in this context that I wish to draw your attention to an ongoing case involving repeated abuses of fundamental labour and human rights.
Since 2001, workers at the Karachi Pearl Continental (PC) Hotel, who are members of the IUF-affiliated Pakistan Hotel Workers’ Federation, have been struggling for recognition of their union and the right to bargain collectively with management.
For over six years, the owner (Hashoo Hotel Group) and the management of the PC Karachi have not only refused to recognise the workers’ democratic choice to be represented by the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers’ Union, they have actively sought to thwart that choice by intimidating, threatening, bullying and harassing union members and officers.
In 2001, when over 300 contract workers were summarily dismissed with no negotiations, trade union leaders were subsequently dismissed for demanding these workers basic rights as established in law.
Union leaders have been assaulted and jailed on false charges.
For defending their right to union membership, PC workers have lost their livelihoods, been forced to take their children out of school and had their family life disrupted and destroyed.
In 2003 the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation (ILO) ruled that the dismissal of the Karachi PC Hotel trade union leaders ‘constituted anti-union discrimination’ and called on the government of Pakistan to investigate these incidents of anti-union aggression and take appropriate remedial action, including the reinstatement of dismissed workers.
No action was ever taken by the former government.
To date the owner and management of the Karachi PC Hotel continue to deny and abuse basic worker rights.
The dispute has become Pakistan’s longest-running and best-known industrial relations dispute.
Should your government fail to take action to rectify this denial of justice, in the eyes of Pakistan’s workers the new government will be seen as a continuation of the past, where the powerful were above the law and workers were expected to suffer meekly.
Your government has an unprecedented opportunity to deliver to all citizens a new Pakistan of justice, rights and equality.
By enforcing respect for trade union rights, the government would be taking decisive steps towards the Pakistan that millions of citizens have voted for, a nation in which no one, however wealthy and powerful, is above the law.
On behalf of IUF members in Pakistan and around the world, I call on your government to swiftly act to bring the owner and management of the Karachi Pearl Continental Hotel to the negotiating table in order to end an industrial relations dispute which is harming the livelihood and well being of the PC Karachi workers and damaging Pakistan’s hotel and tourism sector as a whole.
IUF General Secretary