Labourers in power looms have complained about the working conditions in the district. Hundreds of thousands of workers are currently employed by looms in Faisalabad and union spokespersons complained of poor lighting and ventilation.
An in-depth investigation conducted by a non governmental organisation (NGO) “Pattan” highlights the plight of power loom workers in the district.
The report is in cooperation with the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM) and is a platform to promote workers rights. Several incidents of physical abuse of workers particularly those who complain about the working environment have been mentioned in the Pattan report and the document also mentions that child labour is a commonplace occurrence. “We have seen children as young as six years working in the looms.
This means that their respiratory systems are compromised from a very young age and they are missing out on school,” said Pattan volunteer Kashif Sahu. “No matter how much it is condemned many people still employ young children to operate hand looms because their hands are small and suited to the task.
These children operate shifts as long as adult workers but their wages range between ten and twelve rupees a day,” said an NGO worker. He also said that the physical and sexual abuse of children and women working at the mills was widespread and several cases had been registered against loom workers in this regard. “Many women don’t report the abuse because they fear losing their jobs,” she said.
The study states “workers are forced to work in 13-hour shifts during the day and 15-hour shifts at the night for a daily wage as low as Rs90 a day. At times, workers are made to work overtime without pay”.
“The owners have increased the number of looms to reduce the cost of production. Previously the average worker operated two looms but now he or she works on eight. There is no extra compensation for this,” the study goes on to state.
Pattan workers said that looms in Faisalabad did not account for any safety precautions. “No one takes the health of the workers into account.
Most medical studies state that loom workers are likely to die of chest congestion and respiratory illnesses by the time they reach 50 years,” they said. “Asthma is very common among young children working here, so are auditory problems.”
According to the study, “No medical cover is provided to workers who are just too poor to avail private sector health services. A twenty-year-old daughter of a worker recently died in a hospital because her family couldn’t arrange Rs20,000/- for her surgery”. The study further pointed out “the conditions of buildings that house these power looms is appalling with most in a state of disrepair. There is extremely poor wiring and high voltage wires crisscross all over the factory.”
NGO workers also noted that loom owners often worked to intimidate the labour unions that were weak and small. False cases were fabricated against union leaders to coerce them into submission.
Pattan supervisors said “We feel that there is an urgent need for the civil and political society, federal and provincial governments and the media to look into the appalling conditions of these workers who are fetching billions of dollars in foreign exchange for the country. What they get in return doesn’t amount to anything in comparison.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2011.