Anti-Union Repression Intensifies at Pearl Continental Karachi Hotel – update!

Anti-Union Repression Intensifies at Pearl Continental Karachi Hotel – update!

Posted to the IUF website on 18-Feb-2002



General Secretary Ghulam Mehboob in jail




Three union officers of the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers’ Union remain in police custody after having been arrested by Pakistan’s Central Investigation Agency (CIA) on January 7. The three jailed officers are: General Secretary Ghulam Mehboob, Joint Secretary Bashir Hussain, and Vice Chairman Aurangzeb. The circumstances surrounding the arrests and illegal detention of the trade unionists suggest that management and police are colluding in a union-busting operation.

Management at the Karachi hotel has been seeking to intimidate the union since last September, when the union was informed that a decline in bookings made it necessary to sack all casual and temporary workers and eliminate one day of paid work per week for permanent staff. The union called for negotiations, but management ignored the request and proceeded to sack 350 casual workers. The union was not informed, nor were the dismissed workers. The dismissal letter was published in a daily newspaper on November 8, and the workers were barred from entering the hotel when they reported for work the next day.

The union, with the active support of the IUF Pakistan Outreach Office, responded with a broad-based campaign to reinstate the dismissed casuals. In the course of the campaign, the union Vice Chairman was harassed by the police and violently attacked near his home.

The January 7 arrests and detentions (illegal under Pakistani law) signal a significant escalation in the conflict. A fire which damaged part of the hotel on Sunday, January 6 was initially described by the hotel management in a press statement as a routine accident. Management then informed the Civil Lines Police Station in Karachi that unidentified persons were responsible for the fire. Sunday evening, management told the police that the fire resulted from a deliberate act of union sabotage, and on January 7 Central Investigation Agency (CIA) police detained union President Mohammad Nasir, Vice President Mohammad Ishaq, General Secretary Ghulam Mehboob and 8 other officers and members.

Following a large protest demonstration at the Karachi Press Club organized by IUF Pakistan and the National Trades Union Alliance on January 8, four of the detained union members were released but the officials remained in custody. IUF Pakistan, the

Regular demonstrations at the Press Club continue to be organized by IUF Pakistan, trade unions and human and worker rights NGOs as part of a continuing protest campaign for the release of the jailed union leaders, an impartial investigation of the fire incident, negotiations and an end to anti-union harassment at the hotel.

Union President Mohammad Nasir was released from CIA custody on the evening of January 16 after being continually shuffled over many days from one police lockup to another. When Nasir reported for work on January 21, he found that he had been suspended for failing to report for work during the the time he had been in police detention!

One week later, on January 23, the CIA released two additional union detainees. When the two reported for duty, management suspended them for four days for absenteeism.

Union General Secretary Ghulam Mehboob, Joint Secretary Bashir Hussain, and Vice Chairman Aurangzeg remain in jail and have been formally charged in connection with the fire. Union lawyers have submitted applications for bail. The jailed union officers also face disciplinary action by management for unauthorized leave owing to their detention! Pearl Continental management has used the detention of the workers’ union leaders to extend shifts from 8 to 12 hours.

The IUF has filed a formal complaint with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association charging the government of Pakistan with failure to uphold its obligation to defend ILO Conventions.

The IUF has also written the relevant authorities in Pakistan to demand the immediate release of the detained trade unionists and to call for an investigation into the manipulation surrounding their arrest and illegal detention. IUF Pakistan reports that the international protest campaign has had a significant impact, and we urge all supporters of democratic and trade union rights to add their voices to the protest by sending a similar message. The following letter may serve as an example. Kindly forward to the IUF secretariat copies of any messages you might send. If you have difficulty in reaching the fax number below, kindly send your message to the IUF secretariat by e-mail (iuf@iuf.org) or fax (+41 22 793 2238)and we will convey it IUF Pakistan for transmission to the authorities.

We thank you in advance for your solidarity and support.


Model Fax to: Mr. Owais Ghani, Federal Labour Minister
Fax: +92 51 922 48 90/ 92 03 043

Dear Mr. Minister:

I write to express my deep concern over the illegal detention of officers of the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers’ Union. Management at this establishment has been pursuing an aggressive anti-union policy following the decision to dismiss 350 casual employees on November 8 last year. The union was not informed of this decision, nor were the dismissed workers. The dismissal letter was published in a daily newspaper on November 8, and the workers were barred from entering the hotel when they reported for work the next day. The union understandably opposed this decision and has attempted, thus far unsuccessfully, to negotiate over this issue. Since then, the union vice-chairman has been harassed by the police and violently attacked near his home.

It would now appear that anti-union aggression is being stepped up. A fire at the hotel on Sunday, January 6 was initially described by the hotel management in a press statement as the resut of a routine accident. Management then informed the Civil Lines Police Station in Karachi that unidentified persons were responsible for the fire. Sunday evening, management told the police that the fire resulted from a deliberate act of union sabotage, and on January 7 Central Investigation Agency police detained union President Mohammad Nasir, Vice President Mohammad Ishaq, General Secretary Ghulam Mehboob and 8 other officers and members. While 8 of the detained union members have been released, three union officers continue to be held in police custody: General Secretary Ghulam Mehboob, Joint Secretary Bashir Hussain, and Vice Chairman Aurangzeg.

I regard the detention of the Pearl Continental trade unionists as a deliberate act of intimidation designed to stop the union from effectively defending the rights of the brutally dismissed casual employees at the hotel. It is a gross violation of fundamental democratic and human rights and of international Conventions which Pakistan is obliged to uphold. I therefore demand the immediate release of all the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers’ Union members and officers and a full investigation into the political manipulation involved in their illegal detention.

Yours sincerely,

Cc: Home Secretary, Government of Sindh
Fax: + 92 21 9212023