The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) has condemned the brutal treatment meted out to the six power-loom workers of Ittehad Town who are being tried by an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) after being “falsely” booked under extortion charges.

In a statement issued on Monday, PILER demanded immediate release of these workers and called for taking tough action against the police officials and the factory owners who were involved in levelling false charges against these workers and subjecting them to unwarranted trauma.

It also called for taking action against all those power-looms and towel manufacturing industries at Ittehad Town that are neither registered under the Factories Act nor extend a formal employment letter, minimum wages or social security benefits to the workers.

These workers were arrested from the industrial zone of Ittehad Town last week in a raid following a consistent protest for the last one-and-a-half months, demanding increase in wages and a weekly day off. Six workers who led the formation of a union at the industrial unit were picked up by the police, which connived with the factory owners, and booked them under extortion charges. These workers were produced in Anti Terrorism Court in Karachi on Saturday last in a distraught condition.

“They were brutally tortured by the police that tried hard to force them to declare before the media that they were involved in extortion activities in the industrial area. The workers, however, refused to give in. The Anti Terrorism Court Judge also took note of the severe torture marks on workers and warned the investigation officer against resorting to any third degree tactics, ordering him to extend proper medical care to the traumatised workers,” it said.

Demanding immediate withdrawal of false charges against the Ittehad Town workers, PILER observed that lodging anti-terrorism case against these workers was totally unjustified and a latest tactic of the state that ally with the powerful industrial elite to crush workers who demand their due rights. “Last year, six labour leaders, representing the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM), were sentenced to life imprisonment for being involved in holding a strike for a 17 per cent raise in labour wages in Faisalabad. These workers’ families are in a state of utter distress in the absence of their prime bread earners,” it said.

“Apart from the suffering of the families, this is seriously demoralising for the workers who are merely demanding their constitutional and legal rights including those related to unionisation, minimum wages, and social security. These provisions are enshrined in the Constitution and the state is duty-bound to ensure access to these rights and entitlements,” it said.

PILER stressed that there was a very strong case for the restoration of labour inspection in Sindh and in other parts of the country, which was banned in Sindh and Punjab, in order to ensure that the state was at least monitoring organisations that were not complying with basic labour laws. “Instead the state itself has gone on to supervise anti-labour practices, removing all safeguards that have been constitutionally provided to protect workers,” it added.