Pakistan Journalists Assert Human Rights, Worker Rights

Pakistan Journalists Assert Human Rights, Worker Rights

The recent murders of three Pakistani journalists in separate incidents highlight the dangers media professionals in that country face daily on the job. And like workers in all industries, reporters, photographers and other media staff need tools to effectively address safety and health issues at work and ensure their fundamental human rights.

Pakistan, human rights, worker rights, journalists, Solidarity Center, safety

Pakistan journalists say they have not been trained in basic physical and online security techniques. Credit: Immad Ashraf

Following the launch of a recent series of Solidarity Center workshops that covered safety as well as gender equality, more than 60 journalists from around 15 local unions in Pakistan came away with the resources and information they need to better protect themselves against physical danger, online threats and gender discrimination and harassment.

“Journalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (in northwest Pakistan) are facing a lot of problems, especially female journalists, who face many issues in the field as well as in their offices,” says Samina Naz, a reporter for Radio Pakistan. “This training has broadened and clarified the concept of safety for me. Now I am more careful about my safety when I go to cover any story.”

Naz, who plans to share the techniques she learned with her colleagues, took part in the two-day training, Gender Equity & Physical Safety. The October workshop was the first in a series planned by the Solidarity Center in conjunction with the Pakistan-based Journalists for Democracy and Human Rights (JDHR) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

‘We’re Also Workers. What about Our Rights?
A second workshop in October covered physical safety and digital security. Dara Zafar, vice chairman of the All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation-Karachi chapter  and a layout assistant at The News International, took part and says he intends to “be more cautious about his physical safety and digital security” and noted he had previously received no training on security issues.

In fact, nearly all participants surveyed prior to the trainings said their organizations do not provide security assessment or analysis. Further, they said neither they nor their organizations had made safety plans for reporting in the field or working online.

Nighat Rafaq, Solidarity Center monitoring, evaluation and reporting manager for Pakistan, says the Solidarity Center developed a two-year training and development program after journalists asked: “We’re also workers. What about our rights? Who will talk about our rights?

“Previously, there were a lot of opportunities for journalists, but on their professional side—for example, improving reporting skills—but not on their rights as workers,” she says.

In 2002, Pakistan legalized private media ownership, which previously had been state owned. The action sparked a surge of electronic and print news outlets, and the number of journalists in Pakistan increased from 2,000 to more than 18,000 today, while the number of other media industry workers skyrocketed from 7,000 to more than 300,000.

“The rapid growth in the industry has been accompanied by a decrease in respect for journalists’ basic labor rights, including fair wages, decent employment conditions, trade union rights and physical safety on the job,” says Immad Ashraf, Solidarity Center program manager in Pakistan.

At least 70 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 2002, 14 of whom were murdered last year, leading the International Federation of Journalists to name Pakistan as the most dangerous country for journalists.

Safety Trainings Set for Hundreds More Media Workers
Following the workshops, participants report being able to develop a safety plan and utilize survival tips when working in difficult environments. Nearly 80 percent say they now will be able to conduct security assessments and analyze a potentially dangerous situation for themselves and their colleagues before jumping into an assignment, and 86 percent report increased knowledge about their digital security-related vulnerabilities.

The Solidarity Center worked with the IFJ to develop a train-the-trainer manual for participants, so journalists can share tactics and knowledge with their colleagues. Similarly, another manual on gender equity and physical safety for women journalists and media workers also has been developed. The Solidarity Center will hold dozens more trainings in coming months, including workshops on paralegal education for 120 journalists and union leaders, and 14 two-day follow-up trainings for at least 340  journalists and other media workers.

Along with its allies, the Solidarity Center also will convene five one-day dialogue sessions for 250 representatives of journalists’ and media workers’ unions, media organizations and government agencies to discuss improving laws and policies on working conditions in the media sector. Another goal is to establish a legal fund to support individual and collective legal cases with potential to impact worker rights, working conditions and the physical security of journalists and media workers.

In Pakistan, where journalists often report on human rights issues, media professionals now have the opportunity to focus on their own human rights as workers. Siddiq Anzar, chairman of the Islamabad & Rawalpindi chapter of All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation and president of Islam Press and Workers Union, put it this way:

“After the training and having been exposed to the content and techniques, I now feel empowered.”

Peruvian Union Leader Fired after Speaking out against Poor Working Conditions

An agro-industrial company in Peru has fired a union leader in an attempt to silence one of the strongest voices against unfair and precarious working conditions, says the Peruvian labor federation CGTP. Join the LabourStart campaign for his reinstatement, and follow the campaign live.

Fidel Polo, legal defense secretary for the Agricola Viru Workers Union and deputy general secretary of the National Federation of Agricultural Workers, was fired on July 12 by his employer, Sociedad Agricola Viru, SA, for “defamation.” Polo Sanchez had appeared on a local television program to discuss a campaign for labor law reform and to speak out against working conditions in the Peruvian agricultural export industry, where workers face some of the worst conditions in the country.

Agricola Viru, where Polo had worked since 2006, is one of the largest companies in Peru’s multibillion-dollar agriculture-for-export sector. The agricultural export industry employs some 300,000 people, more than 70 percent of them women. These workers are continually denied their right to freedom of association through anti-union practices. And the law is not on their side: Law 27360, which governs all workers in the industry and was launched as a “temporary measure” in 2000 to foster the growth of new exports, enables employers to offer lower wages and fewer benefits and protections than those provided to other private-sector workers under Peruvian labor law.

Polo has been fighting to reform Law 27360, despite the huge risk of employer retaliation and resistance to union organizing. He is a union leader not only in his own workplace, but also of the newly formed National Federation of Agricultural Workers (FENTAGRO), the first farm worker labor federation in Peru.

In his May 15 television appearance, Polo talked about the campaign as well as about Agricola Viru’s continued failure to provide safe and decent working conditions in spite of workers’ immense sacrifices. In response, Agricola Viru alleged that Polo had stated falsehoods about the company, including, “[workers] have to buy their own safety equipment” and “[we work in] in inadequate conditions.” Although Agricola Viru may view these statements as “defamation,” the Peruvian Ministry of Labor does not: Agricola Viru has been fined repeatedly over the last three years for failing to provide its workers with proper safety equipment, for denying labor inspections, and for egregious working conditions.

“Fidel Polo’s dismissal is a clear attempt by Agricola Viru to rid itself of one of the leading voices for worker rights, not only at their own bargaining table, but in the entire agro-export sector,” said Pablo Ramos, coordinator of the CGTP’s agriculture department. CGTP is mounting a write-in campaign urging Agricola Viru to rescind Polo’s letter of dismissal and allow him to return to work immediately.

The Solidarity Center works closely with both the CGTP and FENTAGRO, and has provided technical support to programs on organizing, collective bargaining, and public advocacy with agro-export sector unions in Peru.

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