Report: Farooq Tariq
The first day of Bhatta (brick kiln) workers national strike
for indefinite period started on 18th April was marked by violence,
kidnappings arrests and torturing of Bhatta workers by the bosses
and police all over Pakistan. Over 20 workers got injured, several
dozens arrested or disappeared and many more tortured in different
parts of the country mainly by the owners of the brick kiln factories
(Bhattas). In most cases, police sided with the bosses and did
not register the cases against the owners.
Despite all this, workers in many districts of Pakistan refuse
to work and went on complete strike. The strike call was given
by Pakistan Bhatta Mazdoor Union (PBMU) against the non implementation
of the courts decisions for abolition of Peshgi (advance) system.
The system makes Bhatta workers bonded and are treated as slaves
by the Bhatta owners. The other demands include a minimum of Rupees
500 for making 1000 bricks and registration of all the brick factories
by the government.
After Supreme Court of Pakistan, federal Shariat Court also decided
to abolish this Peshgi system. The bosses refused to accept the
verdict and continued to force the workers to pay the so-called
advances. The PBMU after launching a campaign and mobilization
of the workers decided to call a national strike of the workers,
the first of its kind in history of Pakistan. There are over 1.8
million workers involved in this industry, mostly un-unionized.
The PBMU has only nearly 4000 membership and was established in
A complete strike was observed mainly in Punjab and North West
Frontier Province (NWFP). But the news of the strike is reaching
in other parts of Pakistan and more and more workers are calling
the union office for posters and information to start the union
Today, there were public meeting organized by the Bhatta workers
at Qasur, Rawalpindi and Wah cant despite a ban on the public
meetings. At Qasur where most of the PBMU leaders were present,
workers remained in front of the Labour department for over eight
hours. Speaking at the public rally Mehmood Butt, general secretary
PBMU vowed to continue the strike for n indefinite period if demands
are not met. Over 400 workers participated in this public meeting
despite police had warned to arrest any one if they participate
in the meeting. Several leaders of Labour Party Pakistan including
myself also spoke in solidarity with the union. There was a very
militant mood among the workers and they felt that it is the time
to do something. They stressed the need for unity among the workers.
At Rawalpindi, over 800 participated in the first public meeting
of PBMU and a complete strike was observed in all 250 factories
in the district. At Wah, 150 workers went to police station to
protest over the torturing of workers by the bosses. Here 13 workers
got injured by the gangsters of Bhatta.
At Raiwind, some 16 workers have disappeared after they were
taken by men in police uniform. They were picked up as they were
leaving for the public rally organized by the union in Qasur.
Police stations in different close by towns and Raiwing police
is denying the arrests of these workers. They include Manzoor
Masih, one of the main leaders of the union in the area. The Qasur
district Police Officer DPO has been giovenb an application to
register a case against the Bhatta bosses for kidnapping, so for
no case is been registered.
Complete strike is also observed in Toba Tek Singh, Faisalabad,
Gujrat, Qasur, Gojranwala, Lahore, Sialkot Sheikhupura and other
districts of Punjab.
Government has invited the Union leaders for discussion on 20th
April. The labour secretary of labour department and other high
officials of the ministry will take part in the negotiations.
The PBMU has decided to meet the ministry officials but refused
to call off the strike as was demanded.
Today in another development, the government used some of their
organizations among Bhatta workers to declare that they are not
part of the strike. They include one section of Bonded Labour
Liberation Front BLLF (Ghulam Fatime Group). They have issued
press releases printed by some papers that they have nothing to
do with the strike and the strike be called off. There has been
many complaints against this group of corruption and nepotism
in using the funds of BLLF.
The Bhatta Owners Association also held their national convention
today in Lahore and asked the government to take action against
the outsiders and NGOs who are provoking the innocent
Bhatta Workers for their own ends. According to their press release,
over 500 participated in their convention.
The Pakistan Bhatta Mazdoor Union has called a press conference
tomorrow in Lahore to protest against the arrests and torturing
of workers. The union asked workers to remain on strike until
government declare in clear terms that Peshgi system in over and
that they will take actions against the bosses who are not accepting
the decision of the courts.