State run institutions in Dire Straits

The Nation, Oct. 27: Mahmood Khan, a retired railway employee had been standing in a long queue since Tuesday to get his pension for September outside the National Bank’s Mughalpura workshop branch.

On Wednesday morning while standing in the queue Muhammad Khan fell on the ground unconscious. People shifted him to nearby hospital where he was declared dead.

It is worth mentioning that hundreds of pensioners had to spend night outside the bank for the payment as PR failed to fulfill the promise made by its general manager Operations for payment of pension by October 25.

PR had assured all the employee unions that salaries and pensions would be paid by October 25 and the unions had called off the strike after the assurance.

General Manager (GM) PR Saeed Akhtar had also categorically stated that after receiving Rs 1 billion by the federal government, the railways had no problem with the provision of salaries and pensions and that every single one of the current and retired employee would be paid by the given date. The GM had also stated that the salaries and pensions of the next month would be paid before Eidul Azha.

All these claims proved wrong when hundreds of pensioners protested in front of the PR headquarters in Lahore and the regional offices all over the country, including Karachi, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Quetta.

They chanted slogans against the pathetic and callous attitude of the PR authorities. Many of them said that they totally depended on pensions. The pensioners questioned that why the salaries of the PR bureaucracy were not delayed though they were higher than any worker or pensioner. They were of the view that PR admin had lied to the entire nation and the pensioners just to avoid the strike.

The PR spokesperson while explaining the reason for the delay in the disbursement of salary and pension said that the department had transferred Rs77.73 million to 78 bank branches all over the country to ensure payment.

He said the reason behind non-payment could be the unexpected bank holiday on Monday which might have delayed the transfer of funds through the banking system. He was hopeful that the matter would be resolved by Wednesday once the funds were transacted.


What Ails Pakistan Railways

Striking railway workers (Courtesy Kamran Razi)

Oct 17, 2011 (9:49 PM) In Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: With train operations coming to a halt across the country on Monday, a high level meeting was summoned to find a way out of the deepening crisis that has pushed Pakistan Railways (PR) to the brink.

But the outcome of the meeting, summoned by President Asif Ali Zardari, was far from definite – with the president directing that funds for the payment of salaries and pensions of protesting workers be arranged for in 7 days.

On the other hand, the government once again asked PR to approach banks for a Rs6 billion loan to cater to burgeoning infrastructural costs – funds that the president ordered be injected solely into a dilapidated and fast deteriorating system.

Finance ministry refuses to pay

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani approved Rs11.5 billion as a bailout package for Pakistan Railways. Of this amount, around Rs5 billion was to be paid by the federal government as cost for rehabilitation projects, while PR was asked to arrange the remaining amount through commercial banks.

However, the finance ministry refused to grant Rs5 billion saying it could not provide further subsidies to Pakistan Railways seeing as it is already suffering huge losses.

President Zardari has asked the government to release funds within seven days for the payment of salaries and pensions of protesting railway employees, a press statement issued after the meeting stated.

Role of the private sector

Presidential spokesperson President Farhatullah Babar said that private sector entrepreneurs were also invited to the meeting to discuss a public-private partnership model for revamping railways.

Chairman Arif Habib Group of Companies Arif Habib and Chairman ARD Group of Companies Aqeel Karim Dhedi were specially invited to give their input on the role the private sector could play in turning around the state-run rail sector, Babar added.

Revamping railways

“The president also advised the government to arrange a loan of Rs6 billion for locomotive repairs and purchases of new locomotives. The loan will be used exclusively for this purpose and will not be diverted for any other purpose,” he said.

The spokesperson further said that another decision was taken during the meeting which pertained to the over Rs40 billion outstanding overdraft obtained from the State Bank by Pakistan Railways, for which it has been paying an amount of Rs350 million per month.

(Read: Railways eye bailout funds by August)

The president advised that this matter be taken up with the Council of Common Interests as PR services were utilised by all provinces and the issue was inter-provincial in nature.

Railways Minister Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour informed the meeting that half of the total locomotives were out of order, 86 per cent of bridges are more than 100 years old, the signaling system is obsolete, the telecommunication system is outdated and the track is over-aged.

Protests in Sindh

Rail traffic between Sindh and Punjab remained suspended due to protests by staff at the railway track near Loco Shed Rohri on Monday.

Hundreds of railway employees, under the aegis of the Loco Running Staff Train Drivers Association led by General Secretary Ali Haider Chachar, staged a protest demonstration against the non-payment of salaries.

Protesting employees staged a sit-in on the railway track, making it impossible for trains to get out of the shed.

“Our protest and sit-in will continue till the disbursement of salaries,” Chachar told The Express Tribune.

Protests in Lahore

Locomotive shed workers of Lahore observed a strike in the diesel loco shed for almost 11 hours on Monday. Hundreds of workers of Rail Mazdoor Ittehad (RMI) started their protest early Monday morning against the non-payment of salaries.

The employees threatened to resume the protest early Tuesday morning and would continue till they were paid.


Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2011.
Article taken from The Express Tribune –
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Bank workers resent layoffs, curbs on union activity

KARACHI, Aug 7: Hundreds of bank and other financial institution employees have been transferred, retired, sent on forced leave, retrenched and offered the golden handshake even while their union offices have been closed over the last few months, bank union leaders have claimed.

The union leaders from Habib Bank, Muslim Commercial Bank, Allied Bank and foreign banks interviewed by Dawn maintained that the insertion of Section 27-B, Ordinance LVII of 1962 passed by the National Assembly on May 26, ahead of the privatization of banks, had been a blow to trade union activity – setting back its most active component in the banking sector.

Section 27 B states: “No officer or member of a trade union in a banking company shall use any bank facilities, including a car or telephone, to promote trade union activities… or carry on trade union activities during office hours… nor shall he be a person who is not an employee of the banking company in question.” According to the union leaders, who claim to have lost contact with one another after the closure of the offices, the Services Tribunals (Amendment) Act 1997 had further prevented them from having access to the labour courts, appellate courts or the National Industrial Relations Council, with all labour disputes now to be sent to the Services Tribunal.

“We are expecting the worst after August 14, when there will be retrenchment and the golden handshake will be offered to bank employees ahead of privatization,” said Habibuddin Junaidi, president of Habib Bank General Workers Front Pakistan. Foreign Banks Employees Federation president Mohammed Ajab Khan, secretary-general Mohammed Saghir and finance secretary Farrukh Saleem Khan told Dawn that already the foreign banks, Al Mashriq, Bank of America, Standard Chartered, Hongkong Shanghai and ANZ Grindlays banks had retrenched 30 per cent personnel, foremost amongst them being peons and security guards and replaced their services by personnel from private companies.

Foreign banks union leaders said they had refused to comply with government instructions to vacate union offices and had, instead, filed a writ petition against evacuation in the high court. Muslim Commercial Bank union general secretary Saeed Ghani alleged that while hundreds of employees had been transferred from the MCB (where only 780 out of 14,000 employees were opting for the golden handshake, “pocket unions” were being promoted by the management in a clear cut example of unfair labour practices. At the same time, the union leaders alleged that a number of collective bargaining agents (CBAs) has been bought over by the management. Saeed Ghani, who was in the forefront of the campaign launched during March/April by the Federal Organisation of Bank Employees and Financial Institutions (FOBFI) led by Mohammed Ali Memon of Habib Bank Employees Union (CBA), told Dawn that the top leadership of FOBFI had since advised his MCB union not to go on strike.

While trade union activity is in doldrums, its scattered leadership sharply criticized the government’s appointments of non-technical bank presidents and executive vice presidents “with fantastic salaries” as well as the discretionary powers given to banking heads to advance millions of rupees in loans – “part of which are being used as advances to finance their personal businesses.”

Mushtaq Ahmed Khan Changezi, secretary-general of Habib Bank Progressive Officers Union, alleged that while more than Rs1 billion had been given out in loans by Habib Bank during the last three-four months, only a tiny percentage of the Rs34 billion HBL loans had been returned by defaulters. As a result of the lack of success in recovering defaulter loans, the government had extended the deadline for Habib Bank until September 5, union leaders said.

Mr Junaidi blamed past governments, bureaucrats, bank managements and union leaders for their collective “corruption and incompetence” in bringing banks to the present state of financial ruin. He demanded that while all those who had contributed to the decline of the banks and DFIs should be brought to trial and the “working class should not be victimized.”

In particular, the Workers Front president called for a referendum in Habib Bank. According to him, while the Habib Bank unions had played a leading role in trade union movements from 1974 uptill today, any deviation by the CBAs could only be blamed on the government’s failure to hold referendum since the last four years.

Source: Dawn