With the Pakistani government recognising the construction sector as an essential industry vital to keep the economy afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, construction work fully resumed in many parts of Pakistan.
However, the BWI-affiliated Pakistan Federation of Building and Wood Workers (PFBWW), which has been actively doing organising work in several mega-infrastructure projects, such as the Karot Hydropower, Mohmand Dam, Suki Kinari and Tarbela Dam, said that many workers are raising concerns over their working and living conditions. PFBWW said that its affiliate unions have demanded that employers and contractors implement COVID-19 safeguards at worksites to ensure workers’ health and safety as they continue their work and avoid project shutdowns.
At the World Bank-funded Tarbela Dam in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, PFBWW has been successful in addressing workers’ concerns. The PFBWW-affiliated Awami Labour Union (ALU) held grievance redressal committee (GRC) meetings with Chinese contractors, the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) and project consultants on 22 and 23 April. Discussions focused on Ramadan work schedules, payment of wages for days declared as holidays (24-30 April) due to COVID-19 and mess menu in company-provided accommodation facilities. The doubling of overtime payments during lockdown, cash payment for unutilized leaves at the time of termination and advanced payments before Eid holidays were also demanded by the union. The management also agreed to pay the workers’ long pending wages and benefit dues amounting to PKR 967,776 (USD 6,000) on 10 May.
PFBWW General Secretary Mohammad Aslam Adil expressed the union’s satisfaction with the meetings. “We have received a satisfactory response from agencies and employers and an agreement has been reached to address long-standing labour issues. We shall monitor the agreement’s implementation and ensure that COVID-19 safeguards are adopted not just at Tarbela Dam, but also in other infrastructure projects where we are doing organising work.”