Currently, the textile industry in Pakistan is facing numerous crises, causing many companies to shut down. A survey shows that approximately 7 million workers have become redundant in this sector, which means 7 million families are affected as typically only one person earns for the entire family in Pakistan. The country is experiencing an inflation rate of around 35 to 40%, worsening things. Unfortunately, most redundant workers are women, an added menace above exploitation and sexual harassment.
The main reason for factory closures is last year’s flood that destroyed cotton crops, forcing companies to import cotton, which made raw materials expensive. Moreover, due to the government’s inefficient management of the economy, the devaluation of the rupee has increased the import bill. To address the economic crisis resulting from poor government policies and corruption, the government has banned many imports, including vital spare parts and machinery, further destroying the already decaying textile industry infrastructure and machinery.
Additionally, there is a reduction in the demand for new textile products due to the global economic crisis, as people in buying countries have less disposable income. This demand reduction is also affecting the closures of textile factories.
The factory owners blame the crisis on the lack of access to cheap raw materials, proper infrastructure, and machines. Still, they have received government subsidies for decades to improve their operations. Unfortunately, many owners invested the subsidies in non-productive sectors such as real estate or speculative investments in the stock market instead of investing in textile operations. At worst, they passed the subsidy to buyers by reducing the final product’s price and artificially gaining market share at the expense of public money.
The factory owners are making the workers bear the burden of the crisis by laying them off en masse, and those still employed have their salaries withheld for weeks or months. Despite all these hardships, factory owners accumulate wealth, becoming millionaires and even billionaires. The message they are sending to the workers is to bear the burden of the crisis together, and things will improve when the good times return.
Faisalabad, a city known for its textile industry, is experiencing a crisis. We had the opportunity to speak with a worker from Sahiwal, currently employed in Faisalabad. According to him, he earns a monthly salary of 16,000 Pakistani rupees. Unfortunately, there are no legitimate trade unions in this sector, and any attempt by factory workers to organise their peers results in immediate termination. Instead, there are”yellow associations of workers that are sponsored by factory bosses and run by management under the guise of unions. These associations exist only on paper to fulfil international compliance requirements.”Faisalabad, a city known for its textile industry, is experiencing a crisis. We had the opportunity to speak with a worker from Sahiwal, currently employed in Faisalabad. According to him, he earns a monthly salary of 16,000 Pakistani rupees (57 USD) per month. Unfortunately, there are no legitimate trade unions in this sector, and any attempt by factory workers to organise their peers results in immediate termination. Instead, there are “yellow associations” of workers that are sponsored by factory bosses and run by management under the guise of unions. These associations exist only on paper to fulfil international compliance requirements.
The primary responsibility of yellow unions and their so-called leaders is to suppress workers’ demands and victimise those who try to organise or campaign for workplace issues.
Women are the most exploited workplace group, as they are denied fair pay and a safe work environment. They are often subjected to bullying, harassment, and sexual abuse. Even if they file a complaint, they are immediately fired.
In Pakistan, no political party is pro-worker or taking any action to address workers’ issues. All political parties and even the police and courts favour bosses and management.
Based on our interviews with workers, we have found that salaries are low compared to the cost of living, workers are not allowed to form unions, and they fear being laid off. Workers are ready to fight but need more organisation and leadership to address their concerns.
Women face the worst exploitation and harassment in the workplace, and there is a dire need for unions, particularly in the textile sector, to protect workers’ rights.
The Pakistan Trade Union Solidarity Campaign (PTUS) stands in solidarity with textile workers in Faisalabad and Pakistan. We support their struggle for better wages, health and safety and against redundancies and women’s oppression. On an immediate basis, democratically-run workplace collective bargaining organisations or trade unions can protect workers’ rights.
We appeal to international workers’ organisations and trade unions to support Pakistani textile workers. PTUS will support textile workers in setting up unions and workplace organisations to defend their rights against management attacks.