MAC: Mines and Communities

Report of a Seminar on Brick Kiln workers in Pakistan

Published by MAC on 2001-02-15

Report of a Seminar on Brick Kiln workers in Pakistan

Aftab Mughal writes on a recent meeting to discuss the problems of brick kiln workers in Multan City, Pakistan.

February 2001

Brick kiln workers are the most deprived section of society. They earn a very low income and their whole family is involved in the work.

The Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) of Major Superiors Leadership Conference of Pakistan organised a seminar on Feb. 4, at Multan, to plan for the Brick kiln workers to educate them and help them to solve their problems. About 70 brick kiln workers attended this seminar.

There are about 300 brick kilns in Multan City. Only 98 of them are registered with the labor department. The regulations state that if there are are 50 brick kiln workers working in any kiln, that brick kiln must be be registered. Registration obliges the owner to pay workers, and fund medical and accident schemes. The owner is bound to build a school for children of the workers. The rate of the production of bricks is also subject to regulation.

If a brick kiln owner does not get the kiln registered , the workers can apply to the labour department and the owner would be fined and the kiln would have to be registered. However there is no brick kiln workers' union officially registered . Speakers at the seminar said that this made it very difficult for workers to fight for their rights.

The main demands of the workers were:

The workers complained that the kiln owners never pay the rates that government has fixed for bricks. The whole family (about 6 members, including small children) spent a whole day producing a thousand bricks and yet are treated as slaves by the owners. There have been many reports of women workers having been raped by kiln owners. Workers who protest have often been put in chains and subject to torture. ( go here for newspaper report

Dominican Father Albert Yohanna from the JPC addressed the workers and said that since God has blessed every human with equal qualities and as such every person has right to be respected. He also said that if one is not paid a respect the attitude goes against the will of God.

He further said that brick kiln workers performed a very special task because without their labor, concept of a shelter just shatters. God loves those who work for the human beings. So the brick kiln workers are God's bless ones. He added that is our moral as well as religious responsibility to voice for the rights and dignity of this very special working class.

He assured the workers that the JPC is with them in their every difficult situation saying, "We will stand together for the rights of the workers. And I am sure that God will help us to solve our problem and lead a dignified and peaceful life.

Muhammad Hussain, president of the (unregistered) Brick Kiln Union, speaking on the present situation of the brick kiln workers said that their conditions were worsening . "They wake up early in the morning irrespective to the season and prepare mud to produce bricks with cold water. The get no health facilities either from Brick kiln owners or the State. The brick kiln workers borrow loans from their kiln owner for marriages of their daughter or sons, which they are not able to pay back throughout their lives, because the interest rate on the loan is so high that the actual loan remains payable while the installments paid only covers the interest. Often the owners miscalculate the outstanding figures. The workers are illiterate, so they cannot read their account ledgers. With the passage of time the amount of the loan grows and the the workers (and their families too) are slaves for life.

These workers are unable to leave the job at that kiln, if ever they do so, they are caught by the police, tortured and sold to another brick kiln owner. Sometimes a husband is found bonded to the one owner and the wife with another owner. The brick kiln owner treats them as he wants".

Mr. Parvez Iqbal advocate (labor court) said that the laborers play an important role in the economy of any country, but in Pakistan nobody cares for laborers, especially for brick kiln workers. He said brick kiln workers never have any shade in summer or shelter in winter to work under. They have to work in open air, in the heat of the sun. They do not have education and health facilities and they are treated inhumanely.

Iqbal further said that many facilities are written down in the books of law but they are not in practice. He said the workers could get free education and health facilities from social security department.

Mr. Ishaq Bhutta, general secretary of Mutehida Laborer Federation said that the brick kiln workers are in such situation, because they are not united and do not speak for their rights. If they will not speak or struggle for their rights misery will remain at their doorstep for long.

He further said that the owner of the brick kiln will never allow workers to be united because he knows that the movement of the laborers will raise demands for their rights He said once brick kilns are registered, the kiln workers will be entitled to education, health and other facilities which are specified in law.

Mr. Rashid Rehman, advocate, described the legal status of brick kiln workers under law. He said that the law never permits bonded labor. No owner can claim for the amount he has already lent to any worker.

The worker has only to file a simple complaint against that particular owner and submit it before the Deputy Commissioner of the area. It was decided finally that JPC would take up all the cases of brick kiln workers for legal remedy.

We will continue our struggle for the workers rights.

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