Pakistan Steel Mill- layoffs in the middle of COVID-19 pandemic

Government decided to lay off 9,300 PSM workers

Contrary to the tall claims made by PTI leadership during the election campaign to revive and reboot the state owned Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM), PTI government has decided to lay off the 9,300 workers of PSM and also to privatise the PSM.   It seems that PTI government has shun the revival plans of PSM promised by Asad Umer and other leaders. In the past, when PML-N government tried to did the same in its tenure then PTI leaders including current prime minister Imran Khan oppose that move.    
This decision of PTI government came as a shock for workers because they were expecting the revival plan to restart the production at PSM. They were hoping that PTI government will protect their jobs in the process of revival of PSM. 
More surprising is the timing of this decision. The government decision made in the middle of a pandemic which have already made millions of workers unemployed.  PTI government came into power with the promise of providing employment to millions of people. This is the worst time to make such a decision. 
Both the government and ECC (Economic Coordination Council) have a moral responsibility to ensure employees' long-term welfare when the labor sector is already under immense pressure as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Employment and the right to work must take precedence over profits, especially in absence of well-entrenched safety nets and prospect of hyperinflation. But government is not seems inoliterested to fulfill its obligation and protect the jobs. 
These are not just 9,300 individuals but 9,300 families. This decision will affect at least 60,000 people. The government needs to reconsider plan od mass retrenchment. 
The government should actually nationalize industries and businesses instead of privatizing them. In this time of crisis, we need to protect our local industries and businesses. It is time to strengthened the public sector to provide basic needs and utilities to the struggling population. 
But PTI government is following the neoliberal economic policies. Privatisation of every thing is integral part of neoliberal economic ideology. Under this ideology, the government reduces the role of the state in the economy. Downsizing, deregulation, liberalisation of labour laws and economy is part of this ideology. 
To make matters worse, the Sindh government tried to stop the protest of Steel mills workers and arrested some leaders including Iftikhar Abbasi. The government send a clear message to the workers that they are not allowed to excercise their constitutional right of peaceful assembly and protest. Later, the arrested leaders were released in the evening. 
This police action and arrests  is a clear indication that government is determined to privatise the Steel mills and not interested to run it on public and private partnership mode. It is clear that government will use repressive measures to carry through this plan of privatisation and layoffs.  This decision also ill timed because it is made at a time when Pakistani economy is facing worst crisis since 1952. The economy is facing negative growth. The workers that is going to lose jobs as the result of layoffs will not be able to find jobs due to the economic crisis. 
The private sector already laying off workers from the industries and businesses. Millions have already been lost jobs and livelihood in the private sector. According to government estimates at least 3 million workers might lose jobs. 
The government in its“full and final human resource rationalization plan for the Pakistan Steel Mills employees" claimed to follow the judgements and observations of Supreme Court of Pakistan.   The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) gave a go-ahead to this plan.   
Government functionaries insist the move should not be labelled as a lay-off plan since PSM employees were getting golden handshakes for which the government had allocated Rs 19.7 billion. “All employees will get a financial package of an average of Rs 2.3 million as compensation,”federal  minister for industries Hammad  Azhar told the media. 
“The move will help us save Rs 700 million of the people’s hard-earned taxes a month [in salaries and other expenses],” the minister for industries noted while justifying the government’s measure.Pakistan has paid Rs 92 billion to cover the mill’s liabilities in the form of employee salaries and bailouts since 2008.
Whether one call it downsizing, layoff, or rationalization, all mean nearly the same thing:in fact,  you are making  people unemployed. Although,  the ECC has tied the approval with a legal go-ahead, the plan itself appears to be more of eradication than rationalization. 
The PSM Stakeholders’ Group, a representative body of employees, pensioners, suppliers, dealers and contractors, puts the accumulated losses of the mill at about $11 billion due to the closure of plants and import of steel items.
However, it has also opposed the government’s decision to lay off works and privatize the mill. The convenear of PSM Stakeholders’ Group expressed the feelings of group in following words.

“This is a bombshell not a golden handshake. They are not paying our arrears of Rs 85 billion and describing their Rs 18 billion as an act of generosity. Since 2013, the dues of retired employees accumulated to Rs 22 billion as well and were not paid by anyone.”
The group proposed a revival plan to the government but got no response.“The government does not have a plan.  The stakeholders also submitted a revival plan that included rationalization of tariff and accountability, but the government did not pay any heed.”
Another leader Mirza Maqsood, president of the Voice of Pakistan Steel Officers Association told the media that “the government has turned us into scapegoats and sacrificed our interest to gobble up the precious land of the mill that is worth billions of rupees. It must understand at this stage that the virus infections are high and our protests may take a dangerous turn." 

Spread over an area of 18,600 acres with 10,390 acres for the main plant, Pakistan Steel Mills is located 40 kilometers away from Karachi in the Port Muhammad Bin Qasim vicinity.
The country’s mega corporation witnessed a decline in its production between 2008 and 2015 before it was shut down when it failed to pay Rs 20 billion in gas bills, according to the stakeholders’ group. PSM is a classic example how we destroyed our public sector industries and enterprises.
The PSM has a production capacity of 1.1 million tons of steel that is extendable to 3 million tons per annum. The main products of the mill include coke, pig iron, billets, cold rolled sheets, hot rolled sheets and galvanized sheets.

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