Scores of labourers and workers gathered outside the Karachi Press Club on Saturday to protest sackings and non-payment of wages in the aftermath of the lockdown.
In a demonstration jointly led by National Trade Union Federation's (NTUF's) Sindh chapter president Rafiq Baloch and Home-Based Women Workers Federation general secretary Zehra Khan, the enraged protesters warned of "besieging" the homes and offices of their employers if their pending wages were not paid at the earliest.
Speaking on the occasion, Khan lamented that while "it is the working class that needs urgent relief, the government is busy providing relief to industrialists and tycoons."
Accusing "capitalists" of duplicity, she said that on one hand, they were benefitting from loans offered by the State Bank of Pakistan for paying workers, on the other they were sacking workers, depriving them of their livelihoods, and refusing to pay their wages.
Particularly speaking with reference to the multinational and international garment and textile enterprises - which, she said, were going through a financial crisis due to mass cancellations of orders - Khan claimed that if they continued to ignore their responsibilities towards their workers, close to two million people would be deprived of their jobs.
Businesses to resume on rotational basis in Sindh
Also addressing the protesters, NTUF general secretary Nasir Mansoor lashed out at the country's "rulers" for "leaving the poor at the mercy of the coronavirus." He said, "They will either die of the disease or hunger."
Mansoor claimed that a large number of workers still hadn't received the relief pledged by the government, adding that "criminal cases should be registered against rulers for the deaths of the poor."
He said that factory owners, too, had been tormenting workers, stating that they were unwilling to pay workers despite government orders and instead continued to sack them. "Some factory owners have closed down their mills and some others are forcing labourers to work in unsafe environments," he complained.
"Due to the lockdown, a large number of daily wagers have been left jobless and millions are facing troubles due to the non-payment of wages. [While] their families face food shortage, rulers tell them 'not to worry,'" he remarked, drawing his address to a close.
The protesters asked for salaries, an end to sackings, arresting and fining factory owners disobeying government orders and social security cover for all citizens.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2020.