For the third day, the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) and workers locked horns on Wednesday as operational work suffered.
KESC said maintenance teams mostly worked from outside their offices to restore supplies and repair local faults. In a statement, it said that miscreants cut off a main optic fiber cable network of its IT department, as a result of which the entire internet and email system collapsed and internal links were broken.
Meanwhile, hundreds of protesting employees continued to occupy the area outside the Karachi Press Club in their hunger strike “to death” which started on April 29. Some people were lying on the now carpeted sidewalks while others attentively listened to the vehement speech made by one of the union members. “We want to tell the authorities that we can’t harm anyone,” he shouted as the crowd clapped. “We are innocent people, just worried about our daily bread.”
Seated nearby was the chairman of the labour union, Muhammad Akhlaq Khan, who says that there is no way that the protesters will compromise.
KESC’s employees took to the streets in retaliation to the downsizing, in which 4,500 employees were sacked on January 19 this year after they refused to take a golden handshake. The government got involved and KESC took back most of the workers on January 25. According to the union’s Khan, what made matters worse was that, shortly after the statement, “around 700 employees were replaced by the management and 1,500 new ones were hired.”
One protester, Alam Din, 48, claimed that the regular employees are being sacked and third-party contractors are being introduced which completely works against their interest. “Introducing a third-party contractor would mean our contracts will be terminated and retirement benefits will be chucked out as well,” he asserted.
When asked whether he had received any response from the management, he retorted that: “We do not want sympathy. We want solutions. We just want to be restored, that’s all. We are done with hearing sugar-coated lies.”
KESC spokesperson Aminur Rehman refuted the claims made by the union’s chairman: “We haven’t fired anyone to hire new ones, to begin with.”
He said that stories relating to taking people back have been interesting to read as nothing of that sort has happened.
Explaining the management’s stance, Rehman said that KESC has 17,000 employees at the moment and in order to make it more functional, efficient and customer friendly, the idea of outsourcing came up. “It is more about rationalising ourselves with the market,” he said, giving the example that a driver at KESC would normally get Rs40,000 whereas the market rate for this job is quite different.
Before exploring the idea of outsourcing, Rehman said that the management put two options in front of the union members. One was to sign a voluntary separation scheme. The second one was to accept to be on the payroll of a third-party contractor and not KESC. “The union members rejected both,” said Rehman, adding that what the employees failed to understand was that this opportunity would make them more financially independent.
He said that because of the “hooliganism that followed, some 30,000 people in Tariq Road, Bahadurabad were rendered powerless.”
Protesters were in no mood to listen to any of the management’s clarifications. “I just know one thing, this is a roundabout way of kicking us all out, which we won’t let happen,” said Mir Ali, who said he had worked at KESC for 30 years.
KESC’s director of corporate communications, Ayesha Eirabie, told The Express Tribune that a meeting took place between Minister for Power Shazia Marri and the utility’s senior management. “We updated her on our stance and situation and we expressed our hope that the government would help us turn around and improve.” KESC asked the government to put a stop to the “illegal activities” of the unions. “We hope to get some firm action and we will continue to meet the government if and when required.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2011.
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