SWABI - As many as 1,200 workers of Tarbela Dam extension project on Tuesday held a token strike against the Chinese contractor and warned of extending the protest if the company failed to meet their demands.

The strike call was given by Awami Labour Union (ALU). On the occasion, the union leaders vowed to continue the protest if Sinohydro, the Chinese company executing the fourth extension project of the Tarbela Dam, did not resolve their problems. The workers came on their duties but did not start working until 10 am.

The workers recalled that the contractor had stopped work on the new powerhouse since July 2016, after some Chinese and Pakistani workers were killed as an under-construction site collapsed.

During the token strike, the construction activities remained suspended completely for consecutive three hours though the workers, representatives of ALU and officials of the Chinese company were present on the respective sites.

ALU leaders Muhammad Ishfaq and Aslam Adil alleged that the Chinese company was not respecting international labour laws and violated workers’ rights, adding that talks held with the company in this connection had produced no tangible results due to apathy of the officials.

Ishfaq and Adil further said that the minimum wage of unskilled workers was increased by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government in budget 2016-17 from Rs13,000 to Rs14,000. The wage was applicable from July 1, 2016 but the Chinese company had started paying the new wages to the workers from February 2017 while the employees were demanding arrears of the past seven months.

They said that the workers also demanded annual bonuses as recognition of their sacrifices during construction of the mega project.

Adil said that the Chinese company had employed Chinese workers which deprived the local workers from getting employment in the project. If unskilled jobs were not given to Chinese workers, more local people of the country would have gotten employment in the project, he said. “We oppose Chinese workers as it deprived the locals from earning their livelihood with dignity and honour”, said Adil.

Ishfaq alleged that principles of merit in giving jobs to the workers had also been violated and their hue and cry had gone unnoticed. The provision of safety instruments to the workers was another big issue, which put workers’ lives at a permanent risk. They are also facing a lack of health facilities and termination of the workers without genuine reasons, he alleged.

They warned that if the aforementioned problems of the workers were not resolved on priority basis the workers would further extend their strike to pressurise both the Chinese company and Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) to take steps. They said that the poor workers should not be forced to stop construction activities on the project completely. In response to a question, Adil and Ishfaq said that Wapda had also called upon the company to resolve the problems of the workers.

Meanwhile, Wapda officials contacted Adil and Ishfaq and stressed that the issues with the company should be resolved through negotiations and they should sit across the table instead of protest. However, none of the Chinese officials contacted leaders of the workers till the filing of this report.