Global Unions

Pearl Continental Hotel Workers Take Their Long Struggle for Justice to Geneva

Pearl Continental Hotel Workers Take Their Long Struggle for Justice to Geneva

Mr. Ghulam Mehboob, the General Secretary of the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers’ Union, after many difficulties in obtaining a visa, had to cancel his scheduled visit to Geneva at the last minute because his wife is seriously ill.

Ghulam was scheduled to speak today to the International Labour Conference, which brings together 3000 delegates from governments, employers’ organisations, and trade union organisations, on behalf of his Global Union Federation, the IUF. The speech was therefore delivered by the IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald on his behalf. The text of his remarks follow:

Ghulam Speech to ILC Plenary - 6 June, 2008

«My name is Ghulam Mehboob and I am general secretary of the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers’ Union in Karachi, Pakistan. I feel honored to be speaking here today, for I have an important message to deliver on behalf of our members and supporters. But first I want to warmly thank the IUF and trade unions around the world for supporting us and making it possible for me to be here.»

PC campaign torch rally, 30 April 2005. The banner reads: "We Salute Chicago May Day Victims - The workers of the Pearl Continental Hotel will continue the struggle until the last breath." {JPEG}

«My story is not mine alone, but a story involving hundreds of hotel workers, their families, and the many more who have supported us and given us courage. It is a story of struggle, and of hope. The story began 7 years ago, in 2001, following reduced occupancy in the immediate aftermath of September 11. The management of our hotel - a luxury, 5-star establishment where a standard room costs approximately two month’s basic salary - decreed that all 350 casual and temporary workers should be retrenched. Many of these "temporary" workers, who earn only a basic wage with no benefits, had been working more than 5 years on the job.»

PC campaign torch rally 30 April 2007 lead by women workers {JPEG}

«The union called for negotiations - a basic right enshrined in the ILO Conventions. But management simply sacked the so-called temporary workers, who were informed about it in a daily newspaper. More than 40 permanent employees, including union officers, were then sacked for defending the rights of the casual workers.»

«The management then launched a full attack on the very existence of the union and on the physical well-being and safety of our members and officers. In 2002, management arranged for leaders of the union to be falsely accused of crimes. I was one of three union officers who spent more than two months in prison without a single piece of evidence ever being produced. We were then dismissed for absenteeism! Two union officers have been sent on indefinite forced leave.»

«In July 2002, two union officials were arbitrarily picked up by police and reportedly beaten at the station in the presence of senior management.” “Management abolished the dues check off, tried to deregister our union and sponsored a company union, all again in defiance of the ILO’s core Conventions.»

«Management has used threats, police violence, arbitrary detention, and the threat of dismissal in an effort to intimidate the hotel employees and pressure them to abandon their union. All of these measures have failed to weaken the Pearl Continental workers’ support for their union. Livelihoods have been destroyed, children taken out of school because their parents could not pay the fees, and family lives have been disrupted, but still the workers continue to show their support, and that support has grown through the labour movement and in democratic civil society in Pakistan. Today, the Karachi Pearl Continental dispute is the most visible and longest-running dispute in Pakistan.»

«Through the IUF, a complaint was lodged against the government of Pakistan with the Committee on Freedom of Association of the ILO. In June 2003 the Committee concluded that grave violations of union rights had been committed by the hotel management and local authorities. The Committee requested the government to fully investigate the incidents of police detention, violence and harassment of union members and requested it to report back to the ILO. The Committee urged the relevant authorities to ensure that workers dismissed in violation of their basic rights were reinstated.»

Ghulam Mehboob, when held in jail on false charges for three months from January to March 2002. {JPEG}

«The response of the government was…silence, a shameful silence which has continued up to the present. No investigation, no reinstatement, no report back. Nothing. Anti-union aggression continues at the hotel.»

«To defend their jobs, their livelihoods, and above all their human dignity, the Karachi Pearl Continental workers have no choice but to continue their struggle in support of basic trade union rights. But the owner and manager of the hotel, the government of Pakistan, and representatives of other employers and governments here today have a clear choice. You can continue the policy of silence, or you can speak up and demand action.»

«The recent elections in Pakistan were a massive expression of support for a new beginning, for a democratic Pakistan where all citizens are equal before the law. Action by the government to put right the situation at the Pearl Continental would be a clear sign that democratic change is real, and not a campaign slogan. The President of the Employer’s Federation of Pakistan is the Vice-President of this Conference - what better occasion could there be to show genuine commitment to implementing the 2003 decision of the ILO?»

«Many of the governments represented here in this room have extensive ties with Pakistan - commercial, financial and cultural as well as diplomatic. You are among the guests we welcome and serve at the hotel. You, too have an opportunity to show support for democracy in Pakistan by urging, through every possible channel, responsible government action to resolve this dispute.” “Employers everywhere should be concerned at the situation. The alternative to the rule of law, including international law, is arbitrariness and corruption, and we know where that leads. When the Conventions and decisions of the ILO are openly and repeatedly violated and flouted, we all need to act, because the ILO’s credibility is undermined. That credibility is all the more at stake as this year marks the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on Freedom of Association.»

9 December 2006, 5,000 people rally at the "Walk for Justice" organised by the Pearl Continental Solidarity Committee—one of the largest labour rallies in the last 20 years in Karachi. {JPEG}

«Our demands are simple, and require simple solutions: recognize our union, reinstate the dismissed members and officers, stop harassing and intimidating our members and supporters and begin the process of negotiation. It can only be beneficial to both sides in this dispute.»

«I thank you for your attention.»

The decision of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association mentioned in Mr. Ghulam Mehboob remarks can be found here.

Although the struggle of the determined workers at Pearl Continental hotel may be the most active dispute and remains strong after all of these years, it is far from the only violation of trade union rights in that country. In November of 2007, on behalf of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC), and all of the Global Union Federation, the Chair and Secretary of the Council of Global Unions wrote to Pakistani President H.E. Pervez Musharraf.to urge him to ensure that Pakistan honours the international commitments that it made when it ratified ILO convention 87 on freedom of association and the right to organise.

Awareness of their situation and solidarity with the workers at Pearl Continental Hotel is growing. The opposition to their struggle has become the symbol of contempt for workers rights in Pakistan. Trade unionists and others of good will are asked to step up their efforts.

What you can do to support the courageous workers at Pearl Continental

  • Urge governments to raise the issue at every possibility, in all venues, with the government of Pakistan
  • inform travel agencies in your country which you use/have contact about the dispute, urge them to book rooms/events elsewhere
  • urge all government/international agencies in which your government participates hosting meetings in Pakistan to use other venues
  • publicize the dispute as an outstanding example of worker perseverance and solidarity
  • Organise meetings with Pakistan’s diplomatic missions in your country to call upon the government to do everything in its power to reach a settlement in this conflict.
  • Organise demonstrations in front of Pakistan’s diplomatic missions in order to demand action.
  • send messages to Hashwani Coporation and the Government of Pakistan to resolve the dispute. Messages can be sent to the following addresses (with copies to the IUF, please):

Employer

Mr. Sadruddin Hashwani, Chairman Pakistan Services Ltd.
Pearl Continental Hotel Karachi
Fax: +92 (21) 568-1835, 568-2655
Email: pchk@hashoogroup.com

Government

Mr. Syed Khursheed Shah
Minister of Labour, Manpower & Overseas Pakistanis
Fax: 92 51 9206283