Bonded labour: SC orders release of 50 kiln workers

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Staff Report

Islamabad

The country’s top court, continuing the crackdown against bonded labour practices in Pakistan, ordered the release of another 50 kiln workers and directed the police to ensure that their belongings were returned to the workers.

The two-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) comprising Justices Umer Ata Bandial and Ijazul Ahsan took up the case regarding the rights of kiln workers on Monday.

Around 50 of these workers were presented before the bench at the outset of the hearing by Sialkot police.

Additional Advocate General (AAG) Razzaq Mirza asked the labourers if they had faced any pressure from the police or the kiln owners, to which the labourers seemed divided in their answers.

A worker, visibly under duress, said that there was no pressure on them from the either party while another revealed that there was an enormous amount of pressure from the kiln owners, while the police usually followed suit with the owners.

Detailing the bench of the practices associated with bonded labour spread out across Punjab, the whistle-blower said that signatures [or in their case, fingerprint stamps] were taken from them on a crude form. Since we are illiterate, he said, we do not know what terms and conditions we have signed ourselves into.

Justice Umer Bandial inquired from the labourers if they were working at the kiln as per their own will or were they coerced into continuing their hardships at the inhumane kiln.

Another kiln worker apprised the court of the surety money system. “We are kept against a certain amount of money as surety money. We have been kept against a surety amount of Rs0.1 million,” he said.

When asked if this they thought this was denigrated, he said that all they felt was embarrassment when the talk came to the matter of money.

AAG Mirza said that machines were tasked to make bricks in foreign countries, which took the load off the labours of such humiliating and inhumane working conditions. “Pakistan should also use these machines,” he said.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan reminded the AAG that they were living in Pakistan. “Where will all the labourers go should the kiln owners switch over to machines,” he said.

The court then directed the parties concerned to approach the civil courts over money and transaction matters.

In its judgement, the bench also ordered the police to ensure that the belongings of the workers should be returned to them, instead of reporting them back with the kiln owner.

“Kiln labourers are hereby set free from their bonded labour and are liberated to go and find employment wherever they can,” the court said.

 

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