Hundreds of labourers and contractors staged a sit-in on Monday, protesting against non-payment of wages, in front of the office of a Chinese construction company which is upgrading the Karakoram Highway in Gilgit-Baltistan.
“The sit-in continues and we will not end until we are paid our wages,” Farman Baig, a contractor, told The Express Tribune by phone from Dhee, a village near the Pak-China border in Gojal.
“We haven’t been paid since March,” said the contractor from Dhee, where more than 300 labourers and contractors had gathered when this report was filed, where they chanted slogans demanding the release of their accumulated wages, which run into hundreds of millions of rupees.
Apart from Farman Baig, about 50 others KKH contractors had joined the protest, who said China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) was responsible for the delay in payment, not the Government of Pakistan.
“We know there is a financial crunch going on at the moment but our wages are to be paid out of money that has already been paid to CRBC’s sub-contractors,” he said.
A government magistrate later arrived and began negotiating with the protestors.
Work on the KKH - the highway linking Pakistan to China through the Khunjerab Pass- came to a standstill last week after Pakistan government failed to pay its share of money to the Chinese company. The suspension of work further delayed the Rs30 billion megaproject, which is behind schedule due to last year’s devastating floods.
National Highway Authority (NHA) General Manager Abdullah Jan told The Express Tribune that a funding shortage was behind the suspension of work on the highway.
He said that Pakistan has yet to pay its share of Rs1.5 billion. “We have forwarded the request through the chief minister to the Prime Minister of Pakistan for the release of funds, and hopefully we will receive a response soon,” he said, adding that amount to be paid by the Chinese government stood at Rs5 billion.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2011.
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