Labour Union (CBA) President Akhlaque Ahmed Khan was arrested and about eight union workers were injured as hundreds of disgruntled protesters gathered at the Karachi Electric Supply Company’s (KESC) head office demanding unpaid salaries on Monday. According to KESC, three of their security guards were also injured and the police reported that three of their men were hurt.
At about 10 am workers began amassing at the company’s Gizri head office and by 1 pm, the road outside was an amalgam of enraged protesters, police, Rangers while terrified employees shivered inside at the sound of aerial firing. The protesters tried to vault the walls and storm the office that led to the security guards firing into the air, which the union claims was directly aimed at the protesters.
Later that night, KESC employees trapped inside the building for at least nine hours finally managed to leave after about 20 minutes of heavy aerial firing and shelling by the police. Dozens of union workers were reportedly taken into custody including the labour union leader; however an exact number was not clear till the filing of this report. The protesters include both current employees who claim that they have not been paid their salaries and those who were let go by the company recently and have not received their dues.
A heavy contingent of police and Rangers surrounded the office and after the initial clash between protesters and security guards, reinforcements flocked to the scene and the number of protesters swelled from a few hundred to thousands. The protesters, now frenzied, turned on the authorities instead.
The police had to resort to aerial firing within the boundaries of the head office while the protesters continued to pelt the building with stones, shattering window panes and damaging police vans.
Fighting for their rights
Earlier on Monday, Akhlaque Ahmed Khan told The Express Tribunethat the management had not paid the protesters for four months and the workers went to the head office to find out why.
He said that soon after the workers reached the office, KESC’s security chief Col (Retd) Asif and Col (Retd) Wahid Asghar were rude to them and called them names and asked the guards to open fire at the workers, which left seven of them injured. He went on to allege that the firing was a direct order from KESC Chief Executive Officer Tabish Gauhar because private security guards cannot open fire at workers without his permission.
He accused KESC’s management of dishonouring the agreement made on July 26. He demanded the government intervene and help register FIRs against the KESC’s CEO, Col (Retd) Asif and Col (Retd) Wahid Asghar for injuring workers.
The union leader said that since the workers have no other option, they would stage a sit-in in front of KESC’s head office until practical steps are taken towards solving their issues and would even offer their Eid prayers there.
The union leaders have also asked Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain for support. In a dramatic fit, Mohammad Usman Baloch, the Labour Union (CBA) joint secretary, said that the KESC is doing what the East India Company did to the subcontinent and was responsible for the ruin of Pakistan’s industry, education and economy.
Peoples Workers Union General Secretary Lateef Mughal condemned the alleged firing on workers by KESC’s security personnel.
KESC speaks out
KESC condemned the attack on its head office and called it a deliberate attempt to disrupt electric supply in Karachi over the Eid holiday.
It said that during indiscriminate firing, the ‘armed union terrorists’ injured KESC head office’s security in-charge, two guards and three policemen.
KESC said that the miscreants jumped inside the head office building and opened fire upon security personnel and employees. Three security officials, including the security officer of KESC’s head offices Col (retd) Asif, were injured in the firing. The police was called but armed union members persisted in their violent campaign and injured several policemen.
According to the utility, on July 26, at the end of about three months of sabotage and disruption by the union, the provincial and city authorities had promised to pre-empt any violent action from the union but it had restarted only after a month’s gap. It said that the utility had already paid a Ramadan Relief Package to non-core employees and a voluntary Eid Kifalat Package had also been launched on purely humanitarian grounds.
It said that some elements within the union with the possible support of external elements had been trying to hijack the situation to serve nefarious interests by causing law and order situation in Karachi. It also said that it has submitted a detailed report of Monday’s violent incidents to the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority and the federal ministry of water and power.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2011.
Watch a slideshow of pictures with police using water canons here.