United we fall

The hard working people of Pakistan are being scammed out of billions by a bunch of incompetent outfits. A prime example is the union of Pakistan Railways.

Adnan Rasool September 07, 2010
There was a time when unions were hailed as the voice of the working class, they were the representative bodies of numerous workers working in all sorts of fields and were committed to looking out for their members. Across the world unions have a sway that most political lobbyists wish they had. The whole point of unions was to give the power back in the hands of the worker or at the very least allow the workers to have a say in how the organisations are run. History is filled with numerous examples of huge corporations being eventually bought out by the workers through their unions. In Pakistan the most notable example of this would be the buy out of Engro by its workers in an acquisition hailed by pride and power.

However, somehow, the characteristics of unions have changed in Pakistan. Whereas once they were the harbingers of change in the 1970s, the unions of today have been reduced to a group of people looking out for their own financial interests and to make matters worse, most unions are led by people who are not even workers themselves. Pakistan Railways (PR) Union is probably one of the largest unions in Pakistan and one of the oldest is currently led by Hafiz Salman Butt, who just happens to be a former MNA and has no direct link to Pakistan Railway.

Downfall of unions

The issue I am raising is not about the existence of unions, its about what they have been doing and how they have been hurting themselves because the people put in charge of the unions have no direct interest in them. Everyone knows the condition PR has been in for the last two decades. It has been the biggest loss maker for the government and has repeatedly been accused of being the most corrupt government department. The logical thing to do would be to either sell it off to private investors who can trim it down and turn it into a profit making organization or allow the government to trim it down and run it professionally. Currently, PR has a loss of about 50 to 60 billion rupees. In simple terms, the government is spending this amount of money to keep the railways working every year rather then spending it on infrastructure and development projects.

Why aren't we privatizing PR?

This has not happened because of unions. They are afraid that there will be huge job losses and that’s something they cannot allow to happen. The problem with that argument is that, they are making the rest of the country pay for their mistakes and losses. Why in my right mind would I pay for someone else’s bad performance? I mean think about it for a second, you work hard and make your money honestly, and then suddenly someone who lives in your street tells you that well you need to pay for us, while they spend all their time doing the least amount of work possible. It just doesn’t make sense at any level to do that and yet the government does exactly that every year under pressure from the unions. If the union had some sense and global outlook, they would sit down with the government and rather then fight or go on strike, negotiate a deal that would keep PR in business and help their members as well.

This is not a new idea; it has been done millions of times across the world. Logically the right thing to do would be to negotiate a package under which PR cuts down its size and operations and the workers that are laid off are either provided monetary compensation by the union, as it makes money too through membership dues, and retrained for different jobs.

Why aren’t we doing exactly this than?

Simply because of the point I made earlier, the union is led by people who have no direct stake in it and yet they can hold the government and the people of Pakistan hostage to their demands and continue to extract money that would be better spent on other things such as security and education.

There is a need to highlight this issue, as its being played out in PTCL, PIA and even in Pakistan Steel. In principle, the hard working people of Pakistan are being scammed by a bunch of incompetent outfits out of billions of development funds that can support our health care, education and security needs . This has already gone on for far too long, and it needs to stop soon because if it goes on any longer, we would be left to live out our lives on a really long term World Bank and IMF loan program. And that’s something none of us want to ever do in our lifetimes.
Adnan Rasool Currently the Deputy Executive Director Center for Enterprise, Trade and Development, Adnan is also a political analyst working mainly on electoral politics and political campaign management. He tweets at @adnanrasool
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Agha waseem | 12 years ago | Reply Very nice article and good insight into the affairs of Pakistan Railways. It was "nicer" to see my copy right protected photograph of Bolan Mail on this page :)
qasim | 12 years ago | Reply 45% of 96000 employees working in PR are ghost employees and nobody dares to highlight this issue as this has been done under supervision of PR's high profile pesonalities!
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