3000 workers at the Neelum Jhelum Hydro Power (NJHP) project went on
strike on Friday 10 November, demanding that workers dismissed without due
process or benefits be reinstated. The strike came after a decision by the
Labour Court which demanded a stay on all terminations, however the employer,
CGGC-CMEC*, had nonetheless continued. According to the Pakistan Federation of
Building and Wood Workers (PFBWW), an agreement was struck In negotiations following
the strike that all 57 terminated workers would be reinstated.
“This is a great victory for construction workers in Pakistan, who have been rewarded for staying strong in the face of a formidable challenge”, said BWI Asia Pacific Regional Representative Apolinar Tolentino. “With a raft of huge hydro projects planned over the coming decades, this victory will serve as a line in the sand for basic workers’ rights for years to come.”
In June 2017 a joint complaint was filed to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association by the BWI, PFBWW and Pakistan Workers’ Federation. The complaint against the Government alleges military intervention into the process of negotiation a collective agreement, non-implementation of a collective agreement, and termination of union organisers without justification.
Now, with NJHP almost finished construction, CGGC-CMEC has begun terminating workers without paying the legal entitlements and termination benefits. PFBWW are also demanding that provision be made to allow these workers can get subsequent construction work on other nearby projects.
The Governments of Pakistan and China are working together on developing the ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’, a US$50 billion investment project of interconnected energy and infrastructure projects that will run from Xinjiang Province (China) to Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea. This “land bridge” will facilitate the flow of goods in and out China to African, Middle Eastern and European markets without having to travel around the Malacca Strait.
More recently discussion between the two countries have been focused on another similar set of infrastructure project between the two countries – a cascade of megadams down the Indus River. These projects are also expected to cost around US$50 billion, and add up to 20,000MW to Pakistan’s electricity grid.
“There are now 3000 well-trained construction workers at Neelum Jhelum whose tenure is about to come to an end. The Government of Pakistan should seize upon this opportunity to secure a stable workforce for future projects and embed decent work across the construction sector.”
*CGGC-CMEC is a consortium of two Chinese state-owned companies, China Gezhouba Group Company and China Machinery Engineering Corporation.