Around 1200 construction workers at the World Bank-funded Tarbela-IV hydroelectric power project in Northern Pakistan took strike action last week, demanding action on wage arrears from (the minimum wage was increased in July 2016, however Tarbela workers only received the increase from February 2017), and annual bonuses.
The strike led to a high-level meeting with the management of the Chinese contractor Sinohydro. Sinohydro have agreed to meet the union’s demands, however they have yet to be paid the wage arrears. The Awami Labour Union (ALU) General Secretary Aslam Adil said that action against the company would continue if their demands were not met.
“China’s increasing presence, building infrastructure projects across the world, is taking its toll on workers’ rights and livelihoods”, said BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson. “Failure to comply with the most basic legal stipulations like minimum wage laws warrants serious concern. Companies like Sinohydro need to listen to the concerns of workers or face the increasing likelihood of industrial action.”
ALU also noted insufficient provision of safety equipment was putting workers lives at risk. In July last year six workers at Tarbela – three Chinese and three Pakistani – were killed when a scaffold came crashing to the ground. Tarbela is one of a number of energy projects being built in Pakistan at the moment by Chinese contractors.
These projects, along with many other major infrastructure projects throughout Pakistan, will together make up the US$56 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). CPEC is one of six economic corridors that together make up China’s “Silk Road” trade and infrastructure initiative (also known as “One Belt, One Road”).
Meanwhile in Beijing, over 29 world leaders and 80 delegations are gathering attend the Belt and Road Summit, one of China’s biggest international events ever. Ahead of that meeting, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chinese President Xi Jinping have signed a series of new CPEC deals worth nearly US$500 million.
Not everybody agrees that CPEC is in the best interests of Pakistan. On Saturday gunmen opened fire on construction workers in Balochistan, killing 10 workers. The area is home to the Gwadar deep-water port, a key node on the Maritime Silk Road network. The Baloch Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack, arguing that CPEC will undermine their peoples’ future.
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