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What’s going on at the Pearl Continental in Karachi?
150 workers of the Pearl Continental Hotel in Karachi have occupied the basement of the hotel since last week. The occupation began when four workers, all of them union activists who have worked at the PC for at least 20 years, were fired by the hotel which has a long history of union-busting. Following their dismissal, the four workers immediately occupied the basement of the PC Hotel backed by 150 of their colleagues who feel that these workers have been targeted due for their union activism. They are demanding that the Hashwani group which owns the PC abide by the law, give workers their rights and put an end to its aggressive union-busting practices.
Food has become scarce while they have been on strike and management has refused to allow outside deliveries to be made. The current Human Resources Director at the PC is a retired Major Zia Jan who came to the PC after busting a union at the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC). Major Zia recently told the striking workers that they ought to be ashamed of themselves for fighting the PC. The management also brought someone from the Labor Department who accused the workers of engaging in an illegal dharna and told them they must stop immediately.
The workers are being filmed and monitored by security. They have been threatened with police action. The families of the workers who protested outside the hotel in solidarity have already been baton-charged by the police.
What are the workers demands?
1. Give us our jobs back!
Firing of union activists while negotiations are ongoing is illegal.
2. Recognize our union!
The courts already do. It’s time for the PC to abide by the law.
3. Come to the negotiating table!
The PC refuses to negotiate the charter of demands. The 2002 and 2006 demands are still pending.
What’s the history of the workers struggle at the PC?
The PC workers’ struggle has been going on since 2001. In the wake of the post-9.11 slump in business, owners of the PC Hotel, the Hashwani Group, began aggressively union-busting, slashing workers salaries and provident funds and even firing those who protested. 300 workers were sacked. PC then accused four workers—all union activists—of starting a fire in the hotel and had them locked up for 2 months in a secret prison in Karachi. They were acquitted in court, but the Hashwani Group attempted to fire them anyway on false charges of absenteeism. The workers got a stay order from the court, one of them in 2002 and the other three in 2006. That order was cancelled in Feb 2010. Before a notification of the cancellation had even been issued, the workers were fired.
The PC-Four have a long history trying to get the PC to recognize the workers union so that they can bargain for their rights and fair wages. The workers who clean the rooms, make the meals and run the hotel only get Rs. 7800 per month for nine hour shifts each day–after they’ve been working there for at least 14 years. A one night stay at the PC costs Rs. 20,000. The Pearl Continental Hotel Workers Union is already recognized by the courts, but the PC management refuses to accept the union or come to the negotiating table. The union, which is recognized by the workers of the PC as their bargaining unit, has issued two Charter of Demands, the standard list of workers demands which unions issue every two years to the employer as a starting point for negotiations. Both the 2004 and the 2006 Charter of Demands were never resolved as the PC failed to come to the negotiating table. Instead, the management of the PC constantly harassed the workers trying to terrorize them into rejecting their own union.
Why are the PC management’s actions illegal?
Pakistan’s labor law says that while negotiations about union demands are ongoing, the employer is NOT allowed to transfer or fire workers. All four workers are activists of a legally recognized union, the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers Union. The PC has chosen not to recognize the union and refuses to bargain or come to the negotiating table.
What evidence is there that the PC is violating workers’ rights and union-busting?
PC’s anti-union rampages have even been the subject of an investigation by the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO). The investigation concluded that “grave violations of union rights had been committed by the hotel management and local authorities.” ILO requested the government to fully investigate the detention and take other actions. The NGO, PILER, the International Food Union and the Labor Party of Pakistan (LPP) have all supported the workers.
The current Human Resources Director at the PC is a retired Major Zia Jan who came to the PC after busting a union at the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC). Major Zia recently told the striking workers that they ought to be ashamed of themselves for fighting the PC.
Who are the PC-Four?
Mohammad Noor, President of the PC Hotel Workers Union
Job at PC: Storekeeper since 1987
He has a family with 4 children to support.
Shah Nawaz, Vice President of the PC Hotel Workers Union
Job at PC: Houseman for 20 + years
He has a family with 5 children to support.
Rao Mohammad Ashfaq, union activist of the PC Hotel Workers Union
Job at PC: Store cleaner for 21 years
He has a family with 4 children to support.
Ubaid ur-Rehman, union activist of the PC Hotel Workers Union
Job at PC: Waiter for 20 years
He has a family with 3 children to support.