Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) Pakistan in collaboration with Public Service International (PSI) and Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC) organized a “Public Hearing on Privatization and Public Debt in Pakistan". The event aimed to address the pressing issues related to privatization policies and public debt and their impact on the country's workers' rights and public welfare.
The public hearing commenced with opening remarks from Mr. Abdullah Dayo, Programme Advisor of FES Pakistan, who warmly welcomed the distinguished panelists, PSI officials, SHRC officials, trade unionists, and PSI affiliates and distinguished panelists on the stage.
Mr. Kannan Raman, Sub-regional Secretary for South Asia at Public Services International (PSI), a prominent labor advocate, passionately voiced his concerns about the adverse effects of privatization policies during the historic Public Hearing. Considering the underfunding of public services, and its impacts on low-income families, and marginalized groups, Mr. Raman stressed the urgent need for transparency in privatization processes. He highlighted the importance of protecting workers' rights and promoting resilient trade unions for a more equitable work environment in the country.
Followed by him, Ms. Kate Lapin, a fervent advocate for labor rights and Regional Secretary for PSI Asia and Pacific, made significant contributions. Ms. Lapin’s speech highlighted three crucial points: First, she underscored the repercussions of conditionalities imposed by international financial institutions (IFIs), emphasizing how they can adversely impact the country's labor rights and human welfare. Second, Lapin passionately advocated for the necessity of solid public services to combat the challenges posed by the climate crisis, stressing their role in ensuring the well-being of communities. Third, she emphasized the importance of resilient staff and government effectiveness, particularly in the context of privatization, to uphold the rights and welfare of the populace. Ms. Lapin’s expertise and dedication have been instrumental in promoting labor rights and public interest within Pakistan and on the global stage.
Dr. Kaiser Bengali, a renowned senior economist, highlighted the misconception that industrialization is solely due to the private sector, noting that public sectors, particularly Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), have played a crucial role in promoting industrial growth in Pakistan. He stressed the need to balance public-centric and private-centric norms and called for united efforts to protect workers' rights.
Senior Economist Ms. Iffat Ara emphasized the significance of planning and processes before privatizing any establishment, stressing the need to safeguard labor rights and state-owned profits. She called for setting mandates for the state, focusing on national interests, increasing foreign reserves, and prioritizing economic growth through enhanced exports. Ms. Ara also stressed the potential of public-private partnerships in the manufacturing sector and emphasized the collective effort required to safeguard human rights.
Ms. Nuzhat Shireen, Chairperson of the Sindh Commission for the Status of Women, raised concerns about the lack of representation of women in trade unions and public sectors, the prevalence of sexual and gender-based harassment, and the denial of proper hiring practices. She urged including women and trans individuals in policy-making to bridge the gender gap and address these issues effectively.
In her address, Barrister Rida highlighted how privatization could exacerbate gender disparities and stressed the importance of including trans individuals in policies to promote inclusivity and equal opportunities.
Iqbal Detho, Chairperson of SHRC, expressed gratitude to FES and PSI for organizing the public hearing and outlined SHRC's mandate of promoting and protecting human rights. He shared recent human rights policy developments, including cognizance powers of SHRC for taking legal action against human rights abuses in both public and private establishments, as well as the inclusion of labor laws in legal aid services. He affirmed his commitment to working as a bridge between civil society and the government to address human rights violations.
The public hearing witnessed active participation from over 30 trade unions and workers' organizations. Their testimonies and experiences were instrumental in highlighting the challenges faced by workers due to privatization policies. Veteran trade unionists spoke at the forum, including Mr. Khursheed Ahmed, Mr. Abdul Latif Nizamani, Mr. Sultan Khan, Mr. Habib-ud-din Junaidi, Mr. Abdul Rehman Aasi, Mr. Nasir Mansoor, Ms. Zahra Khan, Mr. Jawad Shah, Ms. Halima Laghari, Mr. Rashid Khan and others.
Upon conclusion of the hearing, Mr. Dayo shed light on the critical issues plaguing the nation amidst the ongoing economic crisis. He highlighted the various contributing factors, including massive external debt, neoliberal policies, financial mismanagement, the impact of COVID-19, inflationary pressures from commodity imports, devastating floods in 2022, and the pressing climate crisis. Mr. Dayo drew attention to the current government's negotiations for a further loan agreement with financial institutions, which reportedly include conditions for privatizing public sector enterprises, removing subsidies on public services, including electricity, and reducing the public sector wage bill. He expressed deep concern about Pakistan's reckless privatization initiatives and stressed all stakeholders' collective efforts to pacify it.
FES Pakistan's commitment to addressing these issues and collaborating with PSI and other organizations to support workers' rights and promote public welfare was reiterated throughout the event. The shared experiences and recommendations from this public hearing will be documented and presented in Islamabad as part of the collective effort to solve the challenges posed by privatization in the region.