The sacking and reluctant rehiring of 4,500 employees continues to haunt the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) that complained on Monday that protesters were switching off substations, leading to blackouts. The union has rejected these claims.
In January, KESC’s downsizing was met with furious reaction from these employees and the Sindh government intervened. As a result, KESC had to take back the workers but these men and women now claim that the management has isolated them. For a few months there was relative calm but 11 days ago protesters went on a hunger strike to death. To add to the problem, KESC had recently announced a second golden handshake, which was rejected again by these rehired workers.
For its part, KESC has said that for the last two days it has repeatedly informed the media of “threats” from the representatives of its collective bargaining agent (CBA) or union, whose members have forced offices and complaint centres to shut down. A KESC spokesperson, Aminur Rahman, added that the management feared that some “external elements” were behind the organised unrest.
When asked, the spokesperson said he did not know if the management had lodged an FIR. “The CBA Union’s so-called protest and violent disruption and sabotage have no justification,” he said. “It is in clear violation of the Sindh High Court’s order of May 7 which had declared the union’s ongoing protest as illegal and unjustified.” KESC and the union are scheduled to appear in court on May 13.
According to the spokesperson, armed protesters have forced shut KESC’s Customer Services Offices at several locations. He said they sabotaged 10 high-tension cables feeding around 20,000 houses in PECHS, Garden and adjoining areas. “The CBA has deliberately switched off substations and other supply networks. The areas affected till Monday afternoon included SITE, Lyari, Old Town, Manghopir, Orangi, New Challi, Defence, PECHS, Gurumandir, and Mazaar-e-Quaid…”
Since Saturday morning, KESC has been facing acute problems of drivers and ‘mobile trucks with ladders’ (MTLs). Staff working to repair local faults have been removed. Some of the trucks have been locked inside the operation centres. KESC said working staff is being threatened on their mobile phones.
Almost 2,000 complaints from consumers have been on hold.
For their part, however, KESC’s CBA chairman Akhlaq Ahmed refuted these allegations which he said was an attempt to paint them in a bad light. “We have been on hunger strike to death for the last 11 days, so how is it possible for the CBA to have forced KESC’s office to shut,” he said. “KESC’s management has to explain if it has approached any authority, including the police and Rangers.”
When questioned about the contempt of court, he said that the CBA is using its lawful and democratic right to stage a protest and hunger strike against KESC’s stubbornness to isolate 4,500 workers from regular duty and against hiring workers on contract from third-party contractors.
People’s Workers Union’s general secretary Lateef Mughal also refuted KESC’s claims and said that despite opposition, the CBA did not do anything illegal. He said that KESC’s CEO Tabish Gohar was issued a contempt of court notice (in suit No. 815/2010) for failing to follow ad interim orders. The suit was filed by officers who were sacked by KESC.
Mughal added that third-party contractors are those who were once in KESC and were either removed or retired. KESC has so far taken in around 6,000 workers on contract.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2011.