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December 14th, 2011 WW Staff | NikeLeaks Cables: Asia
 

Pakistan: PAKISTAN WORKERS FEDERATION SECRETARY GENERAL CRITICAL OF GOVERNMENT INATTENTION TO LABOR RIGHTS

     
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Reference ID: 08ISLAMABAD857
Created: 2008-02-27 14:34
Released: 2011-08-30 01:44
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Origin: Embassy Islamabad

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RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI 9116
RUEHLH/AMCONSUL LAHORE 4963
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RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ISLAMABAD 000857

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB, ETRD, PGOV, SOCI, PREL, PK
SUBJECT: PAKISTAN WORKERS FEDERATION SECRETARY GENERAL CRITICAL OF
GOVERNMENT INATTENTION TO LABOR RIGHTS

1. (SBU) Summary: In a February 13 meeting with Economic and
Commercial Affairs Counselor, Pakistan Workers' Federation (PWF)
Secretary General Khursheed Ahmad criticized the Government of

SIPDIS
Pakistan's (GOP) economic and labor policies, accusing them of
"taking for granted that labor doesn't matter." The PWF, Pakistan's
largest civil society organization outside of political parties, is
not aligned with any party and encourages its workers to vote for
pro-labor candidates. The PWF leadership's primary goal is to keep
the labor movement united and independent. Ahmad was generally
positive about the United States but criticized the role of "feudal
families" in hindering political development in Pakistan. End
Summary.

2. (SBU) Economic and Commercial Affairs Counselor and Commercial
Specialist met with Pakistan Workers' Federation (PWF) Secretary
General Khursheed Ahmad at the Federation's headquarters on February
13 in Lahore to discuss the union's activities and prospects.
Ahmad, who began as a shop steward in 1947, has been PWF Secretary
General since 1972 and currently sits on the International Labor
Organization (ILO) Governing Board. The dues-funded PWF has 800,000
members, 97 percent of whom are male. The PWF is Pakistan's largest
labor federation and constitutes the country's largest civil society
organization outside of political parties.

3. (SBU) Ahmad's major concern is to keep the labor movement united
and independent. The PWF is not aligned with any political party and
encourages its workers to vote for pro-labor candidates. The PWF's
labor manifesto focuses on education, equal rights for men and women
and improving social safety programs. The PWF approached each of
the political parties prior to the February 18 parliamentary
elections, advocating the inclusion of the PWF manifesto in party
platforms. The country's political parties all have labor wings,
Ahmad explained, and cited the Jamaat-e-Islami's labor wing as being
particularly strong. Ahmad also criticized the MQM (Muttahida Qaumi
Movement) for wanting to go one step further and form its own labor
union.

4. (SBU) Secretary General Ahmad was very critical of the Musharraf
government's economic policies and its effects on the working class,
most notably inflation and increased unemployment. He noted that a
growing number of firms were closing due to power outages. He also
drew a connection between the worsening political situation and its
negative effects on exports, citing that "textile buyers are no
longer coming to Pakistan." Ahmad further opined that the military
government "has held the development of the political process back"
and that the politics are "dominated by capitalists and feudal
families." Ahmad faulted the Government of Pakistan (GOP) for not
engaging more actively with organized labor, reportedly "taking for
granted that labor doesn't matter." Ahmad also targeted the World
Bank, criticizing its emphasis on deregulation and privatization
without the creation of a social safety net. "The workers are being
ignored and there is no dialogue with the unions," Ahmad lamented,
citing in particular the privatization of Pakistan National Bank
(PNB), Pakistan Telecommunications Company (PCTL) and the Karachi
Electric Supply Company (KESC).

5. (SBU) Ahmad was disparaging of provincial government decisions to
suspend surprise labor inspections, but was not optimistic that this
decision would be changed any time soon. Since 2003, labor
inspections have been heavily regulated in Punjab, Sindh and the
Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). Inspection teams must request
permission from provincial chief labor inspectors prior to visiting
factories. Local businesses are informed in advance of impeding
inspections, limiting the effectiveness of the labor condition
monitoring. Inspections with advance notice, Ahmad commented,
simply do not have the same effect.

6. (SBU) Ahmad did, however, share his positive impressions of
corporate social responsibility programs underway in the export
sector. It is important to learn from the Saga experience in
Sialkot, he continued, crediting NIKE's decision to halt soccer ball
production for increasing the visibility of the issue of core worker
rights. (Note: In November 2006, sporting goods manufacturer NIKE
ceased doing business with SAGA sports, a major supplier of soccer
balls based in Sialkot, due to child labor concerns. End Note.)
Ahmed reacted positively to the idea of Reconstruction Opportunity
Zones (ROZs), in particular to the worker rights provisions that
would accompany the ROZs. He promised to publicly support the
initiative once legislation is introduced, highlighting the
potential benefit for better working conditions.

7. (SBU) In response to questions about child labor in Pakistan,

ISLAMABAD 00000857 002 OF 002


Ahmad regretfully admitted that in many cases, economic necessity
drives families to send their children to work. He acknowledged
that the child labor situation was much better now in the carpet
industry, thanks to ILO programs. Employer awareness has increased,
and the government and the ILO have set up schools for children once
employed in the carpet industry.

8. (SBU) Comment: Ahmad was clearly pleased to meet with Embassy
representatives and appreciative of the support that the U.S. has
given the labor movement over the years. The PWF has remained more
or less apolitical since its formation, reluctant to enter the
political fray or endorse specific candidates. By sheer numbers
alone, however, the PWF has the potential to influence millions of
households and voters across Pakistan. The Federation's leadership
is, by all indications, secular, progressive and pro-American in its
orientation. Despite the organization's size and potential, it is
clear that Ahmed is not in a position to breathe new life into
Pakistan's labor movement or to make it a force for social change in
the short term. End comment.

PATTERSON

 
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