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Pakistan's Pearl Continental Hotel Workers Still Fighting for Union Rights/Call for International Solidarity

Posted to the IUF website 06-May-2004

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For over two-and-a-half years, the union at Karachi's upscale Pearl Continental Hotel has been fighting for basic trade union rights. The workers and their union continue their struggle, and support from other Pakistani unions is growing. But they need your support.

The conflict began in September 2001, when management announced that due to a decline in bookings it would sack all casual and temporary workers and eliminate one day of paid work per week for permanent staff. The union called for negotiations, but management ignored the request and proceeded to fire 350 casual workers. The union was not informed, nor were the dismissed workers. The dismissal letter was published in a daily newspaper on November 8, and the workers were barred from entering the hotel when they reported for work the next day.

Pearl Continental Union members demonstrate their support for sacked casual employees.

What began as a union campaign to defend the rights of casual hotel employees escalated quickly into an all-out management attack on the existence of the union and the physical well-being and safety of its members and officers. In January 2002, an accidental fire at the hotel served as the pretext for police to illegally detain a number of union officers and members.

Union General Secretary Ghulam Mehboob, Joint Secretary Bashir Hussain, and Vice Chairman Aurangzeg were arrested on January 7 and detained until March 21, when they were freed on bail. Mohammad Nasir and Mohammad Nawaz, two of the union officers who were illegally detained, were suspended from their posts for so-called absenteeism, and remain suspended. Ghulam Mehboob, Bashir Hussain and Auragzeb were terminated by the hotel – at whose instigation they were arrested –on March 2, while in detention. Union officers Noor Wali, Ali Murad, Hidayatullah, Moin Khan and Nasreen Reshad were dismissed on March 11 without any prior information. Thirty-one active union members and office bearers were also terminated as the result of an alleged restructuring plan.

The union refused to surrender to these acts of intimidation and continued to hold demonstrations and press conferences. Management again escalated its anti-union violence on July 6, when two union officers – Vice Chairman Aurangzeb and Vice Social Secretary Hidayatullah - were picked up by police outside the hotel while waiting to take off-duty hotel employees to a public memorial for the recently deceased former labour minister Omar Ashgar Khan. They were beaten by the Assistant Superintendent of police in the presence of two members of the hotel management staff, and released only after more than 26 hours in police custody.

Union appeals through the labour directorate and the courts regarding the dismissals, management abolition of the union check-off and attempts to de-register the union remain tied up in various legal processes. Neither the labour directorate nor the state labour ministry have taken the required steps to investigate and rectify the illegal firings. Management is continuing its efforts to create and register a yellow union at the hotel, headed by a police official.

In June 2003, responding to a complaint brought by the IUF on behalf of the Pearl Continental union, the Committee on Freedom of Association of the ILO requested the government of Pakistan to (among other measures) instruct the competent labour authorities to rapidly undertake an in-depth investigation of the anti-union dismissals at the Karachi Pearl Continental Hotel and, if it is found that there has been anti-union discrimination, to ensure that the workers concerned are reinstated in their posts, without loss of pay. It further requests the Government to initiate meetings between the hotel management and the trade union with a view to avoiding violations of trade union rights in the future. The Committee concluded that grave violations of union rights had been committed by the hotel management and local authorities, instructed the government to fully investigate the incidents of police detention, violence and harassment of union members and requested that the government report back to the ILO.

What you can doThe Pearl Continental workers refuse to give up their fight. They continue to actively demonstrate, to campaign, and to maintain support among workers both inside and outside the hotel.

November 2003: union members and their families march to the Governors House to demand reinstatement of fired trade unionists.

To date, the government has ignored the ILO recommendations. New pressure is needed on the government of Pakistan to intervene for a settlement of this conflict based on respect for trade union rights. You can help by sending a message to the Pakistani authorities.

Sample Message to the Prime Minister of Pakistan


To: Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali.
Prime Minister of Pakistan
Fax: +92 51 9204632

with copies to

Mr. Pervez Musharaf, President & Chief Executive Of the Islamic Republic Of Pakistan
Fax: 92-51-9272810
E-mail: [email protected]

Chief Minister, Government of Sindh
Fax: + 92 21 9202000

General Manager, Pearl Continental Hotel, Karachi, Pakistan
Fax: + 92 21 568 1835/568 2655
E-mail: [email protected]

Concerns: grave violations of democratic rights at the Karachi Pearl Continental Hotel

Dear Mr. Prime Minister

I have been informed by the IUF, an international trade union federation representing over 12 million members in 126 countries, about repeated and serious violations of basic democratic rights at Karachi's Pearl Continental Hotel.

Since September 2001, the democratically elected trade union representing the overwhelming majority of hotel employees has been seeking to defend the trade union rights guaranteed workers under Pakistan's constitution and international Conventions. Members and office-bearers of the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers' Union have been brutally dismissed from their jobs, detained illegally by police, threatened with violence and,beaten at a local police station in the presence of hotel management staff. At no time during these events has there been any indication that the laws which exist in principle to protect Pakistan's workers are being enforced, or that the principle of equal justice before the law is being applied.

Since these abuses have taken place with the cooperation and collaboration of the Pakistani police and local government authorities, in gross violation of both national law and international Conventions of the United Nations, the government of Pakistan is now the object of a complaint filed with the International Labour Organization, part of the United Nations system, Case No. 2169. In June 2003, the Committee on Freedom of Association of the ILO concluded that grave violations of trade union rights had indeed been committed by the hotel management and local police and government authorities. The Committee requested your government to, among other measures, instruct the competent labour authorities to rapidly undertake an in-depth investigation of the anti-union dismissals at the Karachi Pearl Continental Hotel and, if it is found that there has been anti-union discrimination, to ensure that the workers concerned are reinstated in their posts, without loss of pay. It further requests the Government to initiate meetings between the hotel management and the trade union with a view to avoiding violations of trade union rights in the future. The Committee concluded that grave violations of union rights had been committed by the hotel management and local authorities, instructed the government to fully investigate the incidents of police detention, violence and harassment of union members and requested that the government report back to the ILO. To date, your government has not responded to the ILO recommendations.

The Committee's findings and recommendations are publicly available on the ILO web site. It should be self-evident that the negative publicity in connection with the Pearl Continental management's brutal and illegal behaviour towards its employees and their trade union will cause considerable damage to Pakistan's image abroad. It is also self-evident that tourism will be negatively affected, as few travellers wish to stay at a hotel whose management personally participates in beating their staff. Potential visitors will reflect seriously on whether they wish to visit a country whose police seem to function as instruments of intimidation and retribution on the part of wealthy businessmen rather than as guardians of public order.

We suggest that it is in Pakistan's interest to ensure that this issue is resolved quickly on the basis of respect for international Conventions to which your government is a signatory. We would therefore ask that you use your good offices to intervene with the management and owner of the Pearl Continental Hotel to ensure that the rights of the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers' Union are fully respected and that management cease all violence and intimidation directed against the employees of this establishment and their trade union. We further request that a full, impartial and transparent inquiry be convened to investigate flagrant abuses of police and judicial power in connection with management's illegal aggression against the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers' Union.

Yours sincerely,

Kindly send copies of any message you might send to the IUF secretariat. We will convey them to the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers' Union.

We thank you in advance for your solidarity and support.