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Big win for contract workers in Pakistan

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17 April, 2024After ten years, on 4 April, 55 contract workers at IFFCO Pakistan were finally granted the status of permanent workers by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

The Supreme Court dismissed the petition filed by IFFCO management challenging earlier orders of lower courts which were in favour of contract workers and their union.

In 2014, around 90 contract workers of IFFCO Pakistan filed a petition in the National Industrial Relation Commission (NIRC) in Karachi against unfair labour practices and violation of workers’ right to freedom of association. Company management did not treat contract workers as their employees and did not allow them to join the existing union or form their own.

While the final judgement of NIRC came out in 2020, the commission granted an interim relief to petitioners by directing the company to let workers continue work in the factory till the court reaches a final decision. Meanwhile, in 2017, IFFCO contract workers filed for union registration and were granted the registration the same year. Consequently, the company management approached the Sindh High Court challenging the lower court’s decision to grant registration to the union. Management also one by one illegally terminated the union members against which workers filed another complaint in NIRC.

In 2020, NIRC Karachi ruled that ‘these workers were being deprived from statutory benefits of employments as available to the other employees who become members of the CBA union, and that they are neither permitted to join the CBA union nor are they provided facilities/ benefits at par with the CBA members, although the nature of job/duties are same, and they are being treated unfairly’. It further stated that the company’s decision to terminate workers was a violation of the court’s interim order. Court directed the company to pay PKR30,000 as penalty to each worker as well as to reinstate the workers along with payment of back wages.

After a long drawn legal battle that lasted a decade, during which the lower courts that were approached by the company management upheld the ruling of the NIRC Karachi, the Supreme Court of Pakistan also ruled in favour of the workers by dismissing around 55 appeals made by the management. The Supreme court order is yet to be implemented.

IFFCO contract workers’ union is affiliated to IndustriALL through Pakistan Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mines & General Workers’ Union (PCEM).

Imran Ali, PCEM general secretary, says:

“This is a big win for IFFCO contract workers although it’s very unfortunate that legal procedures in our country are such that precarious workers have to wait ten long years for justice to finally prevail. We call on IFFCO management to immediately implement the court order.”

Ashutosh Bhattacharya, IndustriALL’s south Asia regional secretary, says:

“We congratulate IFFCO workers and our affiliate PCEM for putting up a strong fight. IndustriALL salutes the struggle of precarious workers and stands in solidarity with them.”