On strike: Supply of bricks withheld

Labour minister says strike will have adverse ramifications

Our Correspondent February 26, 2016

LAHORE: The Brick Kiln Owners’ Association went on strike on Friday by withholding the supply of bricks.

General secretary Mehr Abdul Haq said this was just the first stage of their protest campaign. He said this would continue till March 3. He said the onus and fines imposed on kiln owners under the Punjab Prohibition of Child Labour at Brick Kilns Ordinance 2016 had compelled them to initiate the protest campaign. Haq said the onus needed to be also shifted to parents of children who sent them to labour at kilns. “Kilns tend to be without gates and demarcations since families dwell there. At times, children living with their parents are mistaken for workers,” he said.

He said the fines imposed on kiln owners were unfair. “If a kiln is sealed for one day, the loss incurred is to the tune of Rs1.5 million to Rs2 million. The govt has imposed fines between Rs50,000 to Rs0.5 million,” Haq said. He said kiln owners themselves were against child labour. . “We have provided schools and educational material at kilns while the government has done nothing to help,” Haq said. He said the government had promulgated the Ordinance without a provision to accommodate workers’ children. “If there is a poor widow who is working at the kiln and she has children to look after, who is going to support her?” he said.

Haq said workers’ wages should be increased to over Rs1,000 (per thousand bricks) to ensure that they can sustain themselves without being compelled to put their children to work. “This policy has been introduced as part of a larger agenda by some international organisations,” he said.

Haq said kiln owners had called on Labour Minister Raja Ashfaq Sarwar on Thursday to air their reservations. He said they had not received any assurances on the occasion. Haq said they had decided to go ahead with the strike due to this. He said brick kiln owners were set to meet the minister on Friday but had not been able to do so.

The general secretary said kiln owners would continue their protest campaign if their reservations were not addressed. He said they would prevent workers from entering brick kilns between March 4 and 18. Haq said this would put an end to brick production. He said kiln owners would later completely shut down kilns after extinguishing kiln fires.

In a statement issued on Friday, the labour minister said that the government had assured kiln owners that they would be consulted on the formulation of a mechanism to implement the Ordinance. “The Punjab government will evolve an effective and practical mechanism in consultation with kiln owners that is acceptable to all stakeholders,” he said in the statement. The minister said the protest campaign would compromise the nation’s soft image, compromise the economy and endanger workers’ jobs.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) and the Bhatta Mazdoor Union rapped the strike. The organisations said they would be compelled to launch a freedom march if kiln owners did not rescind their strike call. Syeda Ghulam Fatima of the BLLF said kiln owners had strengthened their grip on workers. She said increased incidence of violence against workers by owners had stoked great unrest among their ranks province-wide. Fatima called on the government to take immediate notice of this.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th,  2016.


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