Pakistan Steel Mills — The other side of the story
The recent approach of the Management for the revival of the mills and rationalization of the workforce has mostly been received positively from PSM employees but with also criticism from some quarters.
The mill has been incurring losses since 2008/9 and its operations completely shut down in 2015. The supportive group of employees understands that the management has been taking loans from the Government to pay the salaries of the employees which is a big burden on the poor taxpayer of Pakistan.
They are also aware of the fact that this money could have gone towards other developmental programs and projects of the Government, ranging from the health sector, education, law enforcement, defense, infrastructure development like Hydropower projects and/or providing subsidies to the much needy laborers that have been hit hard by the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic and resultant lockdowns.
The group also apprised the fact that the mill, as being a commercial entity should be run by the people who have a perspective of the business. Government employees, having little to no interest in running the mill in profit are usually misled by political influences. The results are drastically disastrous, as they have witnessed it over the years. Therefore, involving private investors and management is the best way forward.
Speaking of the much-demanded probe into the destruction of PSM by the resistive stakeholder group, one employee remarked that “it may only open a Pandora box for them. Who knows if the inquiry finds it worthwhile to look into the merits of the decision that moved 4772 workers from contractual to permanent slot? 99% of these resistive stakeholders, who have stakes in a dysfunctional mill will be sent home, without any benefits. If any of them is still left behind, then check their degrees and qualifications for legitimacy.”
It is imperative that any probes into the decisions of the past will not remain focused only towards the top management of the past, but will also encompass the past and current beneficiaries of such decisions as well, when the actions and decisions may be rectified.
It may also call into question the lavish agreements made by the past management with the labor unions, while the mill was already incurring losses. This has a tendency of retraction of perks and privileges received by these unions, through fair or unfair means.
However, addressing the concerns of an apparent problem of joblessness due to the layoff of employees, the management representative of PSM said that
“For the ones who hold a valid education and have relevant experience, will not remain idle after the layoff, since the new investor will also be requiring the skilled and adept workers, so there is a greater chance for the deserving to be re-hired with better pay packages and privileges. Furthermore, the laid-off workers will be receiving a handsome amount of money as retirement dues, which will help them set up their own businesses. Only the non-deserving ones have to fear that there will be no room left for them to live on the expense of others”.
Somewhere along the lines, it has also been acknowledged by the majority of the supportive group, in the light of facts and figures that 48% of the existing workforce of PSM is within the age bracket of 50 to 60 years, which will make the offer of PSM for privatization less attractive for the new investor.
Hence, a good package for such employees may mean a win-win situation for all. Since, due to borrowings from the Government, PSM has not been able to pay the retirement dues of the retirees from 2013 onwards.
Therefore, this workforce rationalization plan offers them less of a hassle and more of the benefits, retrospectively. The efforts of the management to clear out the dues of the retirees, which were held since 2013 is also lauded for appreciation by the group.
Another worry is that the government may not sustain or will not be allowed to carry on paying salaries when there is no work or production at the Steel Mill.
“We must understand that by getting paid for no or very little work is a curse in disguise for us, as we are not only sitting idle and corroding our skills but the money which the Government spends on us, makes our lives more miserable as the Government has to increase the prices of commodities and taxes to make up for the lost amount. We know that if we remain as such, then no pay raise or overtime is expected, our incomes remain as idle as we are and our expenses will keep swelling with time” remarked another support group member.
It appears that many of the employees of PSM understand the value of reviving the mills in a sustainable manner and have an understanding of the steps that the present management and the government is taking to turn this white elephant into a working horse, as it should be.
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