It has not been a happy new year so far for both labourers and industrialists in Faisalabad, both of whom oddly find themselves allied against what they perceive to be the government’s gross mismanagement of the energy crisis.
Faisalabad’s economy has long been dominated by manufacturing, specifically in the textile sector. So when the energy crisis hits the electricity and gas supplies of industrial sectors of the city, the resulting layoffs affect this city more deeply than other parts of the country that might have more diversified economies.
There is no reliable count, but nearly all observers say that the number of labourers laid off since the energy crisis began in 2007 runs into the tens of thousands. As a result, Faisalabad has been the site of far more intense public protests and demonstrations against power outages than most other parts of the country, resembling Hyde Park more than the Manchester of Pakistan it claims to be.
Industrialists argue that the government is discriminating against them when it comes to allocations of gas – which many of the largest manufacturing companies use to run their captive power plants – compared to other parts of the economy. They argue that their financial troubles, caused by the lack of power and gas they say, is causing social upheaval, resulting in a rise in crime in Faisalabad.
“The unemployed labourers have caused a rise in crime,” said Waheed Khaliq Raamay, the chairman of the Council of Loom Owners Association Faisalabad chapter. “Inflation and unemployment have both resulted in a rise in street crimes.”
While there is no separate data available for crimes in Faisalabad, the Punjab Police has recorded a dramatic increase in property crime since the energy crisis began in late 2007. The total number of property crimes in the province was recorded at 102,619 in 2011, which represents a 40% rise in four years.
“The situation is likely to get worse in the coming months due to the intensity of the cold weather,” said Raamay. “The government has failed to manage the gas and electricity crisis, which is destroying industry.”
The consensus against the government’s mismanagement seems to have brought together two groups that are normally used to seeing each other as rivals.
“Workers and industrialists usually represent two different camps that are mostly pitched against each other due to their obvious clash of interests,” said Rana Ghulam Irtaza, a textile exporter. “But now they have joined hands for their survival, since the prosperity of one is linked to that of the other.”
Some factory owners have tried to brave through the crisis without laying off too many workers, but this strategy is proving to be difficult and likely to get even tough over the next few months.
“I have to pay my employees despite the fact that our production has decreased significantly,” said Mukhtar Ahmad, who owns a textile factory in the city. “The situation will become more difficult over the next two months. The suspension of gas for [the captive power plants used by] industry would play havoc with production and exports.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2012.