For the past 10 days about 150 employees of the Pearl Continental Hotel are holed up in the basement of PC Hotel in Karachi in protest of the sacking of over 100 employees across Pakistan. What started as a simple protest on Constitution avenue in response to the sacking of 4 union empolyees from Karachi PC, 27 from Pindi PC and 70 from Peshawar 24 days back was met with ignorance from the hotel management has led the workers union to step up their protests and are now roughing it out in the basement of the PC Hotel in Karachi.
The surprising thing is the fact that over 150 people are protesting in one posh hotel in the central business district of Karachi and not one media channel has had the courage to come and report on this issue. The protesters do claim that a crew from Dawn and Express did come by a few days back but the news report never found the airwaves while Ummat has to its credit published this issue a number of times. In any argument there are naturally two divergent points of views, one naturally is originating from the management which might could be in the process of downsizing while another point of view might come from the sacked employees who could be feeling disgruntled. What concerns me is that from the number of issues that the main stream media in Pakistan is quick to dissect at a moments notice its appalling that it chooses to ignore such a protest entirely either under direct or indirect pressure. Lets also not forget the how Mindshare and Unilever blackballed the media channels from reporting on Saad Khan’s death
International Socialists activists have to its credit been reporting on this daily activities of these protesters and it lead two Peoples’ Resistance activists, Abira and Madiha to venture out and check out this situation and Abira reported as follows
The doormen were sympathetic and even showed us a way to go to the backside where we could enter from the “time office.” However we were stopped by security guard and a horrible fellow in a black suit with a walkie-talkie who tried to tell us that these strikers were a security risk.
Here are some of the fact (which still need to be refined)
There are about 150 protestors in the basement. They are now in their ninth day of occupying the basement of Pearl Continental Hotel Qasim, one of the leaders, seemed in good spirits; he said the hotel was not disallowing food provision. Most of the facts given are from Qasim. He said the management asked them to leave and got someone from the Labor Department to talk to them; the Labor Dept. guy told them they were engaged in an illegal dharna and must stop immediately. They were threatened with police action. A couple of days ago, their family members and supporters protested outside the hotel, and faced police brutality and lathi charge. Three supporters were arrested and later released. But, Qasim added, the workers are determined to stay there until their demands are met. They are willing to face coercive action if it comes to that.
The PC workers’ struggle has been going on for since 2001. PC sacked 300 employees post 9-11 slump in business. Later PC accused four workers of starting a fire in the hotel, and locked them for 2 months in a secret prison in Karachi. When they were released, these workers were dismissed on false charges of arson and for taking unauthorized leave (absenteeism). The workers were able to get a stay on their dismissal, and their case has been pending in Labor Court. Since then PC has been on an anti union rampage. PILER, International Food Union, LPP and other groups have supported them in the past. In fact there has even been an ILO investigation that concluded “grave violations of union rights had been committed by the hotel management and local authorities.” ILO requested the government to fully investigate the detention and take other actions. Details of the background can be read at Global Unions: Pearl Continental Hotel Workers Take Their Long Struggle for Justice to Geneva
The current basement struggle is in support of those four PC workers who were finally given dismissal notices recently. The court had placed a stay order on their dismissal. (Now this part I am not clear on whether the court removed the stay). But whatever happened with the stay order, the hotel issued dismissal letters to those four employees. As soon as the workers at PC heard the news, they occupied the basement. However, their demands are not limited to the reinstatement of the wrongly dismissed workers – but also the pitiful wages they get. Qasim is in assistant in the store engineering department. I could not gather the exact nature of his work – but he does some mechanical work. He has been employed at the hotel for fourteen years and gets a shamefully low Rs. 7800 for nine hour shifts each day; PC has not delivered on yearly wage increments. In addition they recently announced a 30% cut in their provident funds and said it was because the hotel was suffering losses. The workers receive medical insurance for themselves and family members, and an extra allowance of Rs.1100 – a fixed sum given to each employee regardless of experience. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this package is grossly inadequate in today’s economy. Qasim admitted PC allows all employees free meals at the hotel. But remember, a room at this hotel goes for about Rs. 20,000, which roughly equals a worker’s two month salary.
Media coverage has been abysmal. Besides Ummat nobody has published a story on the protest despite its bold and radical nature; Protestors feel the media do not wish to irk the Hashwanis who are clearly a Brahmin family, rich in connections. DAWN and Express news interviewed PC workers protesting outside the hotel, but did not carry a story. An ANP representative visited them and made false promises, according to Qasim.
A protest has been organized on Saturday March 6th at 5:00pm at Karachi Press Club