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May 13, 2019

Steel Mills’ teachers ending their careers due to non-regularisation, unpaid salaries

Karachi

May 13, 2019

Thirty-two-year-old Ambreen Ahmed, a teacher of chemistry at the Shah Lateef Inter College that functions under the education department of the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM), chose to end her career last month as neither was she receiving her salaries and nor were the authorities concerned willing to change the status of her contractual employment to a permanent job.

She had been teaching at the college since 2009 but she would receive only four salaries in a year. Finally, she decided to leave her job instead of taking part in a protest demonstration every month for the release of salaries.

Ambreen is not the only staffer of the PSM who had to suffer such a gloomy situation as around 350 other contractual staffers of the Steel Mills have been afflicted with the similar misery and financial crisis. They have not been paid by the administration for almost five months.

“Hundreds of teachers and non-teaching staffers have been working on a contractual basis in the department but the authorities neither pay their salaries nor award them a regular status of job,” Ambreen says.

Ironically, there is no defined service structure for these employees. The sweepers and senior teachers receive an equal monthly salary of Rs 15,000 and there seems no hope that they will be regularised. As the teachers are demotivated, it has also badly affected the quality of education at the educational institutes functioning under the PSM.

A brief history

In 1981, the PSM had set up its education sector with the aim to provide educational faculties to the children of its employees. For this purpose, around 14 educational institutes, including Chakar Khan Primary School, Sir Syed Primary School, Mashal Secondary School, Rana Liaquat Secondary School, Allama Iqbal Secondary School, Madar-e-Millat Degree Girls College, Pakistan Steel Cadet College, Shah Lateef Inter College, Aagosh Institute for Special Education, Institute of Computer Science and a vocational centre and teacher training institute, were set up.

According to the official record, the PSM administration had initially appointed around 100 contractual teachers and non-teaching staffers to run these institutions. Later, more staff members were appointed as the number of students increased. Currently, more than 5,000 students are studying at these institutes.

A controversial decision

The employees in the PSM education sector were appointed by the PSM administration and until 2004, they would get the same facilities which the other PSM employees enjoyed, including a residence in Steel Town, free education for their children, medical facilities and other perks.

It was 2004 when things changed for such employees after then PSM chairman Lieutenant General (retd) Abdul Qayyum laid down the foundation of the Hadeed Welfare Trust (HWT).

At that time, it was decided that four departments of the PSM, including medical, education, transport and township departments, would work under the trust. “When the education department came under the HWT, employees resorted to protests for their rights,” said PSM Teachers Action Committee President Muhammad Yaseen Samo.

A case of discrimination

In 2008, then prime minister of Pakistan Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani issued a notification which stated that contractual workers of the organisations under the federal government would be made permanent employees.

After this notification, the HWT and PSM’s collective bargaining agent (CBA) initiated talks in which it was agreed that the medical, township, and transport departments of the PSM, excluding the education department, would continue to run under the PSM administration and their contractual employees would get permanent jobs. “The decision was open discrimination against teachers,” Samo said, adding that neither did the PSM administration address the issues of the education department nor did the HWT, despite the fact it was a welfare trust.

Legal struggle

In 2011, around 100 contractual teachers of the department filed a petition with the Sindh High Court. “The teachers appealed to the court in the petition to regularise them in light of the prime minister’s notification and the SHC issued orders in favour of the employees in October 2012,” said Surraiya Rashid, a teacher at the Shah Lateef Inter College. She, however, maintained that the trust was not ready to convert their contractual jobs to permanent jobs even after the SHC verdict.

“Some blue-eyed teachers appointed in recent years have been regularised while those who have no good ties with the high-ups are still struggling for their rights,” Surraiya said. She vowed that she would continue her legal struggle against the trust till she got her rights. “We have filed a contempt of court petition with the SHC and around 17 teachers have already approached the apex court.”

Disillusioned teachers

A number of teachers told The News that they were planning to leave their jobs because they were not being paid and were feeling undervalued as they had not got what they expected from their jobs.

A teacher, Abdul Sami, said, “It’s not about wanting a pay raise. But we just want an appropriate amount, the release of salaries on time and permanent status of employment. It would help us take care of our families and be able to educate our own children.”

“I can’t ask my relatives for money and help because they think that I am a teacher and I earn somehow better than them which is not true. The fact is that we survive on loans,” Sami lamented. “We have to pay utility bills, house rents and spent on health care. Also, shopkeepers don’t care about our profession. They want money if you need to buy something.”

“Teaching is no more a profession of honour,” Sami said, bemoaning the fact that he had been teaching at the PSM education department for the last one decade and still awaited his regularisation and timely release of his salaries.

HWT’s stance

When contacted, HWT Incharge Ali Hassan Hikro admitted that the trust was established to separately manage those employees of the PSM who had no involvement in the direct production of the mills, including the employees of the education department.

“The PSM has been facing a financial crisis and like other employees, teachers are also suffering,” he said. He, however, maintained that contractual employees had no official relation with the PSM as they were being managed by the HWT. He also showed no empathy with the teachers saying that those who worked for years were themselves responsible for their miseries.

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