Workers from a towel and linen supplier in Karachi are fighting for their rights after being dismissed for taking part in union activities
Workers from a towel, linen and apparel supplier in Pakistan are fighting for their jobs after being dismissed for taking part in union activities.
The factory, called International Textile in the Korangi Industrial Area of Karachi, Pakistan produces for international hotel chains including Marriott and Accor, the hotel linen brand Standard Textile, and UK company Marks & Spencer.
In October 2021, 25 workers were illegally dismissed for their participation in union activities and for demanding their legal rights, in clear violation of their freedom of association. These workers had recently participated in union organising at the factory relating to underpayment of wages and benefits. Following a worker-led protest demanding their jobs back, 18 of the workers were reinstated but the 7 workers who were leading union organising in the factory did not get their jobs back. A further worker was dismissed for unionising in January. These 8 workers appear to have been blacklisted by International Textile for their union organising and are unable to find any jobs in other factories.
All of the fired workers were employed as ‘contractors’ through the labour agent (which is illegal), but the factory say that because they weren’t direct employees their reinstatement isn’t the factory’s responsibility.
Widespread labour violations in the factory led to worker unionization efforts. These violations included non-payment of the double rate for overtime, non-payment of double overtime rate for working on gazetted holidays, forced overtime beyond legal limits, pay discrimination against women workers and general underpayment of wages.
The workers have started a court case demanding their rights and jobs back, but this is slow and the workers are stuck without income while the court processes are delayed.
The union, NTUF, is demanding that International Textile respect workers’ rights defined by local and international laws, and ensure that the 8 workers be reinstated with back pay for wages and benefits covering the period since their dismissal. They are further urging International Textile to enter into dialogue with NTUF to address the other documented labour rights violations, and to negotiate the terms of the workers’ return.
We have contacted brands in this case but no resolution has yet been reached.
Spotlight on Pakistan's Labour Contractors
Many workers in Pakistan are employed via labour contractors – recruiters and employers who supply workers to big factory operations. Under the Sindh Factories Act 2015 this set up is illegal, yet the use of contracted labour is commonplace in Pakistan.
The benefit to suppliers of using labour contractors to provide a percentage of their workforce is that suppliers can keep workers at one step remove and avoid some financial and legal duties towards them as full employees. This includes dismissing workers cheaply when they don’t need full factory capacity, and also dismissing workers who they see as undesirable in their factories, such as those who unionise…
This illegal yet commonplace tactic has led to low unionisation rates – with precarious work and fewer rights many workers find the risk of organising is too great. This case at International Textile is just one of many where worker organising has been eliminated through what seems to be a mundane contract dispute. The importance of the fight of these workers will have an impact on many. If they win or lose, the union see their case as setting a precedent as to whether suppliers will be allowed in the future to undermine freedom of association through labour contracting methods.