Pakistan: Suki Kinari dam workers go on strike

Close to 2,000 workers at the Suki Kinari (SK) hydropower construction project in Northern Pakistan have been on strike since 27 October to protest the curtailment of their freedom of movement, illegal terminations and denial of overtime wages, leaves and COVID-19 allowances.

The workers, led by the SK Shaheen Labour Union, said that the company is not honoring the cooperation agreement it entered into with their union. They also lambasted the arrest of union president Syed Tahir Shah on 29 October after being invited by authorities to discuss their labour issues. Tahir Shah was released a day later owing to the protests from the workers and local community. 

The union said that the workers’ employer, the China Gezhouba Group Corporation (CGGC) has been negligent in complying with Pakistani labour laws. It said that since February, the workers’ freedom of movement was limited to the work/camp site under the pretext of protecting them from COVID-19. However, workers are denied basic medical and sanitary facilities, and COVID-19 allowances. The union also said that workers are being pressured to go on quarantine in project premises exclusively or face termination. It said that there were already numerous cases of dismissals using COVID-19 as an excuse. 

These were confirmed by the BWI-affiliated Pakistan Federation of Building and Wood Workers (PFBWW). PFBWW General Secretary Aslam Adil said that CGGC has been violating labour laws and the situation has worsened with the spread of COVID-19. 

 "Workers are not allowed to leave the premises or even visit their families for many months now. As a result, workers were forced to resort to protest actions to press their just demands. PFBWW supports the workers and the union in their struggle for justice. We urge the management to initiate a dialogue to resolve the issues and for the labour department to take necessary steps to ensure the full implementation of labour laws and protect and that workers are not denied of their rights,” Adil said. 

On 2 November, a protest march covering more than 20 kilometres was launched by workers to press their demands.