MANAGEMENT-UNION STANDOFF WORSENING KARACHI'S POWER CRISIS
TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
July 11 - 17, 2011
Power crisis in Karachi has assumed the dangerous proportion with the conflict of interest between the management of sole electricity supplier of the city-and its neighbourhoods of approximately 20 million population-and its employees lying unresolved over unusually long period.
Prolonged outages of 8 to 10 hours are adversely disturbing the routine lives of citizenries and importantly jacking up the cost commercial ventures spend on to make alternative energy arrangements such as power generation through diesel- or gasoline-run electricity generators. Such cost evasion obviously lets the society bear the cost of workforce going inactive due to reduction of factory working hours.
Karachi electric supply company (KESC) supplies electricity to more than two million individuals and bulk consumers in the city and its outskirts. As a last resort to reduce burgeoning cost of operations and foot its outstanding bills, the utility had planned to go for separating the employees the management thought were surplus. Dubbed them noncore and non-technical workers whose jobs are relegated to third party contractors, the private management announced voluntary separation scheme (VSS). At the first instance, the VSS undoubtedly attracted hundreds of workers. However, later due to a disagreement on severance payments between the management and bargaining agents representing noncore and nontechnical workers, the attempts of VSS remained abortive. Until last update, the management was hell-bent on convincing workers to opt VSS that for alienated union members was basically FSS (forced separation scheme). The meaning of VSS had been corrupted the very day the management started pressurising employees to consent with the early retirement plans, they commented. 'KESC has made it clear that no other package will be announced after this scheme and non-core workers are encouraged to accept this final offer' and other such statements that the management touted in its final call of VSS sound threatening for the employees. Especially, at a time when industrial matter fell in to the mess of dirty political games much to the chagrin of poor workers who was doubtful of the amount they would receive on separation, the language used in the statements fuels the tense situation.
According to KESC, the VSS has been in the financial benefits of noncore and nontechnical staffs and that layoffs were designed under the consideration of post-retirement lives of the separating workers. The package is attractive and the financial benefits separating noncore workers will draw will be equivalent to their monthly salaries. "If the separating workers deposit the money in any regular profit scheme, the monthly earning would be equal to, in most cases even greater than, their current monthly salaries," said a press statement.
While the management alleged union of forcing workers who were willing to accept VSS no to accept it, the union rejected the allegations as rubbish expressing dissatisfaction over the package. It is not clear under which principle KESC is encouraging workers to accept the VSS. Adding further to the confusion was the deadline (July 15) that the KESC management set to apply for the final VSS offer without clarifying what would happen if workers remain unwilling to miss it.
Load shedding is one thing, for last few months miscreants allegedly comprising of protesting union workers disturbed the energy-driven life by botching the already decrepit power infrastructure and undermining the power administrations in the metropolis. The damages to the electricity installations, attacks on mobile maintenance team, manhandling of linemen, and ransacking of properties are the reactions vented allegedly by the protesting workers.
Other than shortfalls, power outages occur due to normally faults in extra high voltages power lines, grid station equipments and high-tension fuse link/jumpers and damages to underground cables. Some of the faults are perennial in nature and therefore need constant repair and maintenance by the KESC's mobile technical teams. The removal of fault was quite slow due to refusal of union members to perform their duties. Until last week, sit-in in front of the head office of KESC by the union worker did not end.
In some places, repair and maintenance works were not done for weeks. Union members had forced on-duty workers to stop working. It was said outsiders were creating problems. However, KESC blamed 'union miscreants' for sabotaging routine functions of the company. In a long list of dossiers against the union, KESC clearly said union miscreants had attacked SITE, Bin Qasim, and Korangi power stations. They interfered and upset operations of the head office and business centres by manhandling and torturing employees. They set on fire substations and destroyed main cables, vehicles, feeders, and PMTs.
The row turned blessing in disguise for rapacious fellow workers who, it was learnt, ripped off money from the consumers in return of fixing the faults. Law and order situation got out of control in some areas where consumers losing patient to daylong power failures came out on roads and streets in protest. Drawn-out load shedding caused shortage of water in many areas. People without water and electricity stage protest on streets and thoroughfares.
The government seems oblivious to the woes of the citizens of Karachi enduring 8 to 12 hours of load shedding. KESC has demanded of the government to provide working staff members with security and its equipments and transmission networks safeguard from people who are challenging the writ of the government by creating havocs to the power infrastructure of the city. The government should intervene into the matter as power woes are festering due to avoidable acts of miscreants.
The conflict between the management and employees should be resolved on the table in accordance with the laws of the industrial relations. Layoffs and subsequent violent reactions are also common in developed countries. But, the situation is handled amicably. In recent past, crisis-hit companies like General Motors set examples of how to turn around crisis in the aftermath of massive layoffs. There must be a semblance of civilization in Pakistan's case as well.