Lahore - More than 10,000 employees performing their duties at Metro Bus Service in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Multan have been underpaid and denied their due rights, particularly the right to leave.

The metro security personnel – 410 in Multan, 1,050 in Lahore and 550 in Rawalpindi – have not been getting even salaries as well as weekly rests, 24 annual and casual leaves and 12 festival holidays for years.

Likewise, other staffers including housekeepers, inbox and maintenance workers – 2,995 in Multan, 3,570 in Lahore and 1,285 in Rawalpindi – are given only weekly offs, not other leaves they are entitled to, throughout the year, in violation of the Constitution of Pakistan and the Road Transport Workers Ordinance 1961, as per the officials.

Mr Uzair Shah, the general manger of PMA, which is the statutory body established by Punjab government to plan, construct, operate and maintain mass transit systems in the major cities of the Punjab, said the PMA has outsourced all of its operations and maintenance services. It has outsourced security services to M/s Security 2000 Pvt. Ltd; janitorial and housekeeping services to Lahore and Rawalpindi waste management companies (LWMC); procurement, operation and maintenance services to M/s Platform Tourism; M/s Inbox Technologies Ltd. and KentKart; M/s Merin Pvt. Ltd,; M/s Pak German Engineers Pvt. Ltd.; M/s Greeves Pvt. Ltd.; M/s Pak German Engineers; M/s Techaccess Pakistan Pvt. Ltd; M/s NASCO Traders; M/s Daewoo Express Pakistan; and M/s LMKT – in Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi.

In the presence of the legal provisions, the metro workers are deprived of their right to have weekly rests and different annual leaves making mockery of the state and the PMA which consists of Punjab Chief Minister as its chairperson, transport minister, three other MPAs and officers as its members. The security supervisors, guards and staffers of the three metro projects told this scribe that they had been sick of doing job without even a single leave or holiday since the projects had been set up by the Punjab government.

For the purpose of attendance, they daily have to come before cameras set up at all the metro stations and then the security supervisors mark their attendance in registers. The supervisors also send the names of staff present to the Security 2000 offices where their monthly salaries are finalised.

Mr Uzair Shah maintained that the PMA could take action against the companies by holding their payment in abeyance only when they were found violating the constitution or any law. He was then told by The Nation that Section 4(2) of the Road Transport Workers Ordinance 1961, which regulates the hours of work and other conditions of employment of road transport workers in Pakistan, says “Every worker shall be entitled to have at least twenty-four hours of consecutive rest in a week.” Section 4(4) adds, “Where… a worker is deprived of any of the weekly hours of rest… he shall be allowed, as soon as circumstances permit, compensating hours of rest of equal number so lost.” And “…no worker shall be caused or allowed to work for more than ten consecutive days without a compensating rest for at least twenty-four hours at one time.”

In addition, against the minimum wages fixed by the government, the employees are paid Rs14,000 while the minimum pay fixed by the government is Rs15,000. Those who ensure 100 percent attendance are given Rs15,000 including Rs1,000 as reward for ensuring 100 percent attendance without weekly rests. Whosoever gets one-day leave with or without intimation, he has to sacrifice Rs1,000 bonus and one-day salary of Rs500 as well as suffer a minimum fine of Rs1,300 -  a total deduction of Rs 2,800 from his salary.

When a worker goes on leave, someone else has to do double duty of 16 hours at normal wages rate. This is, however, in violation of Section 4(3)a which provides, “The worker employed overtime shall be paid remuneration at twice the rate of his normal wages calculated by the hour.” In addition, in case of refusal, such employees have to face job-loss threats.

Nevertheless, the Section 6 of the law says, “In addition to the period of daily and weekly rest, every worker… shall be entitled to not less than 14 days leave with full pay.” Section 6A(1) says, “Every worker shall be entitled to festival holidays with full wages for twelve days in a year.”

Section 6A(2) provides, “A worker may be required to work on any festival holiday but a substitute holiday shall be allowed to him within ten days of the festival holiday, or, at his option, he shall be paid wages in respect of such work at double the ordinary rate of wages payable to him.” Likewise, Section 6B says, “Every worker shall be entitled in a year to ten days casual leave on full wages.”

When asked why the workers were neither given substitute holiday nor paid wages in respect of such work by the government nor the companies, Mr Uzair said he could do nothing except to stop their payment.

In violation of 5(2) of constitution which states, “Obedience to the Constitution and law is the [inviolable] obligation of every citizen…”, the PMA and the companies concerned have not been fulfilling this obligation. They have also been defying Section 4(1) of the constitution which says, “To enjoy the protection of law and to be treated in accordance with law is the inalienable right of every citizen.”

Under section 38, the State is bound to ensure equitable adjustment of rights between employers and employees, and landlords and tenants; and to provide for all citizens…facilities for work; and adequate livelihood with reasonable rest and leisure. It is also bound to provide for all persons employed in the service of Pakistan or otherwise, social security by compulsory social insurance or other means. But the failure of the state to do so even in the public sector departments is obvious.

On the legal arguments, Mr Uzair said that he would issue notices to the company and send the record to the Labour Department so as to ensure the compliance of the law and for the redress of the workers’ grievances.

PMA Lahore Deputy Manager Muhammad Imran, its Multan spokesperson Zahid Raza and Rawalpindi project manager Shumaila said the PMA had outsourced all the services to different companies. Thus, they added, Security 2000 and other companies provide staff and “we are not concerned with what they pay to them and why the employees are not given weekly offs and annual holidays”. But as per the law, “Employer means the owner of any road transport service in which workers are employed.” Thus, also the PMA is accountable for the acts of cruelty being committed against the Metro Bus staffers.

However, they admitted, the PMA was aware of the fact that the workers, especially security personnel, had been deprived of their right to leave since the projects were launched. When asked why the PMA had not cancelled the contract awarded to Security 2000, a company which violates the workers’ rights in defiance of the Constitution and the law, they did not answer.

Punjab Transport Minister Jahanzaib Khichi and Security 2000 owner Faisal Ali Malik neither received the calls made by The Nation nor replied to messages sent by this scribe his version on the issue.

His public relations officer (PRO) said that he did not know the latter’s whereabouts.

Security 2000 Project Manager Maj (r) Amanat and Admin Officer Nayyar Najam refused to comment.