PSI Statement on banning of electricity workers' union activities in Pakistan

Denial of electricity workers’ trade union rights in Pakistan constitutes violation of international standards designed to enable privatisation.

Public Services International (PSI) condemns the decision of the caretaker government to prohibit all forms of trade union activity in the electricity sector in Pakistan. The reported decision, applying to generation, transmission, distribution and sales, is a breach of international standards, including Conventions 87 and 98 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

 The caretaker government is cynically using the “Pakistan Essential Services (Maintenance) Act (Pesma) 1952” to deny workers’ fundamental rights and push through privatisation. If the caretaker government believed electricity was an essential service, they wouldn’t be determined to privatise it.

The caretaker government has no democratic mandate to privatise public services, nor to undermine fundamental labour rights. With an election just weeks away, any policy changes should be subject to democratic debate. It’s clear this egregious and unpopular policy is being pushed through to meet conditionalities posed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Electricity privatisation has been a failure worldwide. It leads to higher prices for the public, reduced wages, worsening of working conditions, lack of job security for the workers, and leaves the government with greater debts. The only people who benefit are foreign investors.

 PSI co-organised public hearings on debt and privatisation in Pakistan in 2023. It was clear from those hearings that privatisation is not supported by workers or the public. Instead, a new government must focus on taxing the rich and corporations, phasing eliminating corruption that enriches politicians, securing a more just debt workout and ensuring funds promised to address the floods and other climate disasters are secured.

PSI calls on all political parties to condemn both the denial of labour rights and the attempt to privatise energy and to publish their positions on public energy ahead of the election.

We call on the IMF to publicly condemn this violation of trade union rights and cease promoting privatisation as a panacea to the sovereign debt crisis.

We will work with affiliates in Pakistan to lodge complaints with the ILO and relevant UN bodies.