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CPEC projects and lack of adequate labour laws

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By Ali Rehmat

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has strengthened decades-old Sino-Pak economic relations. The $60 billion CPEC project is part of the $5 trillion One Belt One Road (OBOR) that China considers as ‘project of the century’. OBOR links 68 countries and facilitates trade and connectivity in Asia, Europe, and Africa through mega projects of roads, bridges, energy, ports, railways and power plants.

As a priority, development comes first for the developing countries because most of them are not in a position to ensure provision of basic human needs to their population. Being a developing country, Pakistan considers CPEC as a ‘Game Changer’ project for the country as it’s expected to bring financial aid, infrastructural development and job opportunities in the country.

Although, most of us are agree that the project is a game-changer for the country’s economy, but it is disappointing to see that labor laws and regulations in most of the projects running in the country, have failed to secure the rights of the working class. It is claimed that these projects are a source of income for the poor people but on the other hand, the same projects are crushing the working class.

Let’s have a look on few processes of the recruitment and agreement processes of these projects.

Initially, when the labors (Pakistani Staff) join the Chinese projects, they are told to work in the company on trial basis for one week and on showing good performance, the company will sign an agreement with them. Thus, the labors would be able to work on daily wedges. It has been observed that in many cases, the labors work hard to get the job but after a week, they are told that their performance is unsatisfactory so they must leave. Hundreds of workers work for several days on trial basis and after the work is done they are sent home without pay.

Most of the agreements are written in the Chinese language and it is not possible for the locals to read these documents. Thus, they just sign the papers to complete the formalities. There is nothing in most of the agreements to defend the labors as most of the agreement clauses are in favor of the company. None of the Pakistani workers are sure to work with the Chinese companies as per the agreement or project duration. It depends on the Chinese bosses who decide the fate of the workers. They can rusticate the workers within one day, one week or a month as per their wishes and favor of the company.

The residential houses and facilities provided by the Chinese companies are also very poor and unhygienic. The workers are provided one mattress sheet and ten to fifteen people are put into one room. Fifty or more than a hundred labours live in one home and it sometimes becomes security issue for the neighbors and even within the house because there always remain the risk of clashes among the labors over rooms, water, debates on ethnicity, religion and politics. The labors are not allowed to use any kind of electrical appliances except mobile chargers in their rooms and they can’t cook in the houses. If the company management caught anyone using any electric appliance, they impose penalties on the labors.

Environmental Health and safety issues are most serious in these projects. Most of the labors get serious injuries during the work and some injuries remain untreated. Thus, many labors become disable for lifetime but there isn’t any insurance or monetary fund facility for the labors. The labors are given medication at local hospitals for one or two days and then they are sent to their homes.

In most of the projects, the health and safety department only focuses on those sectors which can pose a physical and financial risk to the company. The threats and risks caused by these companies to the surrounding environment, people, their health and livelihood are mostly neglected.

The construction waste generated by construction companies are dumped openly in the environment. The wastewater is just passed through two septic tanks and then it is discharged into the streams and rivers. The wastewater of these construction works, especially in the tunnel works contains a lot of hazardous chemicals which can cause serious damage to the aquatic life and pose serious threat to the health of the people. Locals especially in Paras and Balakot (KPK) sell fishes in the market and the domestic tourists visit these areas to enjoy the taste of Trout Fish and these water bodies are polluted by the projects in the upstream areas. This is one of the most serious threats for the health of the people who are living along theses riversides.

Undoubtedly, CPEC and other developmental projects have great potential to generate jobs for thousands of unemployed youth of the country. Many people learn new skills in these projects which helps people to get employment. However, there is an utter need for implementation of labor law in the country and develop policies for the welfare of the working class. The working class will continually suffer physically, mentally and financially, until labor law and policies are implemented in these projects to secure the rights of the working class. It is heart-wrenching feeling when one sees not the executives but labors of international countries supervising our educated and skilled youth and this brings the feeling of slavery rather than the sense of being an independent citizen. Pakistani workers by no means lack of talent; their problems stem from the fact that there is no institution, defined law and policy that may defend their rights.


Ali Rahmat has done master’s in environmental sciences from Karachi University. He can be reached at: rehmat_shamsi@hotmail.com

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