Thursday, February 02, 2023

Pakistan's Women Workers’ Alliance


 Since the pandemic, Pakistan’s once-thriving textile industry has laid off  7 million workers due to low exports and the country’s grave economic crisis. Electricity costs have doubled; floods have devastated cotton fields, adding to shortages and the government has placed limitations on credit.

In Faisalabad,  known as the Manchester of Pakistan producing textiles for the world, hundreds of thousands of the 1.3 million textile workers – half of whom are women – have lost their jobs and the jobs of a huge number are on the brink.

The biggest worry is that these jobs will be lost forever. That is worse than their delayed and underpaid salariesthe harassment they face at work and having no healthcare facilities. For rural women who travel to the factories from surrounding areas early in the morning and work long days for low pay, this is their only source of income.

Hundreds of factories have closed or are working short shifts. Workers have been fired. Even the cottage industry of female workers, sewing at home, lacks support or incentives. They make gloves, socks and stockings for less than a dollar a day. Women are reluctant to raise their voices because they fear it will mean losing their jobs. In small mills, labour laws are ignored and workers denied even maternity leave.

The Women Workers’ Alliance (WWA) is protesting against the mass layoffs in the industry, and demanding workers are paid. It estimates that of more than 150,000 workers in the hosiery sector alone, only 4,200 have social security cards.

WWA has helped workers form anti-harassment committees in textile sectors and other industries. We have also held meetings with the government’s labour department regarding the formation of anti-harassment committees and succeeded in getting them into 40 mills in Faisalabad. Three months ago, workers from Masood Textile Mills succeeded in forcing the implementation of the legal minimum wage, a battle that took four months.

One of the key issues is that WWA cannot meet with women at their workplaces for any union activity, as they are bussed into these workplaces by the owners. 

Pakistan’s textile industry is in crisis – and women are bearing the brunt of its decline | Parveen Latif Ansari | The Guardian

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