Cutting costs: KESC workers bite the hand that gave the golden handshake

Published: January 21, 2011
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Hundreds of sacked employees of a Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) shout slogans outside the KESC office. The utility purged more than 4,000 of its employees as a rightsizing move, which caused violent protests as they chanted slogans against the management and demanded an immediate withdrawal of the decision. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

Hundreds of sacked employees of a Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) shout slogans outside the KESC office. The utility purged more than 4,000 of its employees as a rightsizing move, which caused violent protests as they chanted slogans against the management and demanded an immediate withdrawal of the decision. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

KARACHI: A nightmare unfolded for Karachi’s electricity supply company on Thursday barely hours after it sacked over 4,000 workers. Hundreds of them showed up fuming at its Gizri headquarters, attacked the building, burnt cars and damaged several others.

The mayhem broke loose at about 11 am when the protesters pelted the building with stones, breaking its glass, setting at least two cars ablaze and damaging 113 others after looting them. By 1 pm labour union leaders had started giving speeches.

Some attempt was made to protect the building as security guards had concealed the entrances. By the time the protesters were done, office papers and documents were scattered around the main premises. The workers used a nearby building as a toilet and trade unionists arranged rugs for them so they could sit and protest.

In a press release, the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) said that “hundreds of goonda elements” forced their way into the office buildings. “They captured employees inside as their hostages and physically attacked the top management officials on duty,” it said. “[They] ransacked equipment and property and torched the vehicles.”

Frantic phone calls were made to the police and other law-enforcement agencies. But according to KESC, “they stood there watching the scene as silent spectators and did not act even after hours of the start of the attack”. While talking to The Express Tribune, a well-placed KESC official, who did not want to give his name, said they had received serious threats from the agitators. Some threats were made that load dispatch centres would be attacked, which could affect the entire supply system.

The situation turned ugly when some trade union leaders claimed that KESC itself had “planted agitators” amidst the lines of “peacefully protesting” workers. Akhlaque Ahmed and Lateef Mughal said that KESC wanted to “defame” them as “law breakers”. At the protest, leaders of the trade unions said that they would not go home until the retrenchment orders were withdrawn.

A KESC official said that they would “100 per cent” register criminal cases.

For their part, the Peoples Workers Union said that they would move the high court on Friday against the retrenchments. The labour union (CBA) said that they were already in court about the matter.

KESC has maintained that the move was “unavoidable”. Its performance had been badly compromised. It had announced a Voluntary Separation Scheme (VSS) to 4,500 of its non-management staff and workmen engaged in non-core functions, such as drivers, office attendants, security guards, sanitary workers, etc. Prior to the recent retrenchments, there were 17,000 employees, said a KESC official, adding that a majority of them had failed to perform properly. Some of them were drawing high salaries, up to Rs50,000 for just being drivers.

When The Express Tribune tried to interview the protesters they declined to give their names. Some of them said they were not sacked, but were there to support the protesters. KESC CEO Tabish Gauhar issued a late-night statement saying that he condemned the agitation by the labour union (CBA) and their destruction of KESC’s property. KESC welcomed Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussein’s appeal for a peaceful resolution of the issue through negotiations.

KESC has engaged with MQM deputy convener Dr Farooq Sattar. Speaking at a press conference at the Karachi Press Club, the United Workers Front’s Nabeel Ahmed Khan said that on December 31, KESC had introduced its scheme but the workers had not found it attractive. He called the protest and the damage done “a natural process” given that 4,500 workers were “forced” out.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st,  2011.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • Asim
    Jan 21, 2011 - 2:09PM

    KESC is a private company now, it has the right to fire its staff in order to make itself profitable. I may not entirely agree to their methods but it was a bold step by them to finally get rid of employees who have not been performing and who had been previously inducted due to political affiliations. It is time state corporations take bold steps to get rid of non-performing employees and make themselves profitable. However, we may not be aware of the whole truth by KESC management but what is being done currently by the people like burning cars, damaging property, etc shows how can you keep such employees who are violent and destructive. If there is any honesty in their claims of unfair dismissal they could have a peaceful protest and certainly I think a lot of the public would have supported them but what they are doing now, i think they should be prosecuted by the police and courts.Recommend

  • adnan rao
    Jan 21, 2011 - 4:54PM

    @Asim:
    well asim nice thinking about how to improve the company performence by reducing the number of people who is working. But what if i told you that KESC recently hired 600 highly paid managment staff what would u say on that?
    plus they have used VSS which is supposed to be voluentry seperate not to sabotage their right of employment.
    thanksRecommend

  • funny
    Jan 21, 2011 - 5:28PM

    @ adnan- hiring qualified and therefore, naturally well paid management staff is a step in the right direction- it shows foresight and the inclination to invest in a long term solution for the problems of the corporation. How the filling of executive posts can be compared to the relieving of non-core/essential staff such as drivers, etc is just beyond me. In fact, its downright silly. The two are not comparable nor carrying out similar functions. Kudos to KESC! Out with the lazy!Recommend

  • Imran
    Jan 21, 2011 - 5:41PM

    @Adnan

    I think Asim’s comments are correct. As for KESC hiring 600 highly paid management staff, maybe for them it might will be profitable for KESC. If I owned KESC, I will rather pay high salaries to get work done and getting revenue into KESC, instead of paying monthly workers salaries without any output.
    Sitting in an office and doing no work been a tradition of the past, now companies are acting they way KESC did. Recommend

  • adnan rao
    Jan 21, 2011 - 7:00PM

    @funny:
    well ya it is funny coz they are firing the employee becoz of over staff not because they are not working properly .. and such they again hiring more people with over paid salary.
    how can u justify that?Recommend

  • Asim
    Jan 21, 2011 - 8:39PM

    @adnan rao:
    There are 2 different aspects of what is happening in KESC. One being the firing of the employee’s which from the outside who knows is right or wrong. But, sitting on the sidelines it is clear to me at least that KESC has been overstaffed and all political parties have been using it and other State organisations to recruit in-efficient, non-performing staff just to please their votes. Now my other aspect the reaction given by these employee’s of damaging KESC assets, who will pay for them. KESC and its staff will certainly not pay for it, me and you and all honest paying citizens of Karachi will bear the costs of these damages. Lastly, hiring and firing efficient staff is the right of any organisation if it follows the laws of the country and I am sure by giving the golden hand shake being offered to its staff KESC must be following the laws. Last, but not least I read in an article that KESC drivers were being paid around Rs 50,000 per month. With such salaries any company will go bankrupt and how does a driver is paid that much amount is beyond my understanding when you can get a normal home driver for around Rs 10,000. Bottomline is if the staff had stage a peaceful protest I would be with them but this is no way to protest while all political parties are maximizing their coverage by saying we are with you. This is not a political decision simple survival of a company is at stake. Recommend

  • saif uddin
    Jan 21, 2011 - 9:26PM

    if kesc kick those 600 officals who are taking there salary upto 2 to 3 millions having no strong qualification except political background then the company could over whelmed their losses, em da one who is suffering frm all ths rivary in da european countries there hire one employee for 55 users but we have diff ratio we hire 1 employee for 120 consumers, there is no such reasone to kick4,500 peoples at a time…………. Recommend

  • yas
    Jan 21, 2011 - 10:13PM

    There is no justification for any thing that happens now, is there. KESC have 17000 employees out of which 4500 have been laid off…bokhari commercial phase 6 has been out of electricity since 2:00pm yday Jan 20th and despite calls and frantic trips to their office, power has not been restored. The only asnwer given is that all the workers are protesting!!! Enlighten me someone, what are the remaining workers who have been retained by the company doing? Is there no body out there with a sense of duty and responsibility to the consumers? we’ve been told to expect no relief until the demands of those protesting have been met…in other words, we have to bear the brunt of this chaos…now how does one justify this I wonder /:Recommend

  • Syed A. Mateen
    Jan 21, 2011 - 10:17PM

    Any organization is run by its workers and not by the management.

    KESC was privatized in November 2005. At the time of taking over KESC, Mr. Shan A. Ashary of Al-Jomaih said that “no employee of KESC would be retrenched”. Mr. Frank Scherschmidt, the then Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of KESC at that time said that “the company was already under staffed”.

    It is quite astonishing that KESC retrenched 4,500 workers under Voluntary Separation Scheme (VSS). If any employee was not interested to accept VSS, this does not mean that KESC should force its employees to accept VSS.

    After the pressure exerted by Sindh Provincial Government (PPP) and its coalition partner (MQM), the management of KESC is weighing its options to retain the sacked employees.

    As a bargaining point KESC management has asked the government to increase its tariff by Rs.1.79 per unit which will be additional burden and KESC consumers.

    During winter season i.e. in the month of November and December 2010, many KESC consumers used very less electricity and most of them even did not used fans.

    After paying exorbitant amount of bills during summer season many KESC consumers were expecting that they will be paying lesser amount in the month of December 2010.

    As usual, this time KESC again played the same trick with its consumers by sending meter readers late by 8 days i.e. after 39 days instead of 30 days so that the current month bills should jump from 300 units which will ultimately increase the slab rate and KESC consumers will be charged according to the increased slab rates falling between 301 to 1000 units.

    President of Pakistan has taken notice of KESC sacked employees and Sindh Chief Minister has made a four members committee. Similarly, Governor of Sindh has also take the notice of the situation and made a eight members committee.

    I am sure that all the 4,500 KESC sacked employees would be reinstated in due course of time. But why an ordinary consumer should be charged more by Rs.1.79 per unit for retaining KESC sacked employees?

    This is some thing between the management of KESC and its employees by why KESC consumers are dragged in the tug of war going on between KESC management and its sacked employees? Recommend

  • Sana
    Jan 21, 2011 - 10:55PM

    @adnan: take it frm an insider, they r NOT hiring 4000 new ppl to replace the 4000 old ones.. Do u realize jst hw stupid tht sounds? plz plz Get ur facts straight b4 sayn things tht jst make u sound ignorantRecommend

  • Azhar
    Jan 22, 2011 - 12:19AM

    This is not funny at all.

    I wanna tell to those who are in favor of new highly paid management or workers that if one work is done by a worker who distribute bills to there homes or a driver who bring the equipment to the faulted place if they were fired then who will come to your complains? In population of Karachi there is a need of 1 people to satisfy the 60 complains of consumer but there are average 139 peoples are in under of one non core employee. There is shortage of employees i am part of this company and i have the accurate figures of required employees there is a need of 37000 labor workers to meet complains of Karachi. But there is only 17000. How you complete this shortage gap?

    Sacked employees are far behind. MD just want to hand over the management to MANSHA GROUP this group demanded for just 5000 employees part of condition to take over the management. So meeting the condition of such group they redundant there employees? What is the sin of that employees?

    This is not funny at all. Recommend

  • adnan rao
    Jan 22, 2011 - 1:12AM

    @Sana:
    what did i said which make me sound ignorant?
    all i was writing the facts.Recommend

  • Grouper
    Jan 22, 2011 - 8:34AM

    Who would protest when they’ve lost their job? In a city of 17 million people which is the commercial capital of the world’s 6th largest country: somebody who is unemployable and does not have a skill to offer. Build some skills and there are enough jobs out there.Recommend

  • Asim
    Jan 22, 2011 - 9:26AM

    What kind of threatening behavior is being done by KESC staff. Who do they think they are?? People are without electricity for more that 24hours due to fault. Obviously, no one is going to rectify the fault until as advised this matter is resolved. So, they will keep us hostage and make us suffer the consumers who pays the bills and salaries of the KESC workers.Plus, the political parties have made this into a political decision. They cannot control or manage their budgets and taking the country to bankruptcy if we are not at this stage already and now simply to impress their voters they want to take KESC down under or as we are all aware of lead the way for KESC to increase the tariffs, retain the inefficient workers and squash the all ready paying consumer. Recommend

  • Ali
    Jan 23, 2011 - 9:02PM

    MQM first supported the privatization of KESC.

    Now that the private management is taking independent decisions, MQM is supporting the labor union!
    What kind of hypocrisy and double standards are these only to have political issues in hand???Recommend

  • tabish
    Feb 14, 2011 - 11:48PM

    as the situation is going on; the management had said that it will continue the vss
    the matter should resolve now
    what they can do

    first take the FIR back then talk to the union about the seriousness of the issue as the management is saying that they are focusing on productive areas

    *increase the amount specially for new employees because they could not get the chance of doing service

    *if any job created in the organization first priority must be given to the employees Recommend

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