Deplorable rights of labourers in 2013 in Pakistan

Islamabad: In 2013, 35 workers were reported dead in result of collapse of coalmines, burst of boilers, crushed by machines, fireworks, torture by employers, fell from under construction buildings and electrocuted. The Institute for Social Justice (ISJ) expressed deep concerns about workers deaths owing to no implementation of labour laws and absence of health, safety and other protection systems and mechanisms at work places. The data was collected by the ISJ. Every year thousands of workers are electrocuted many lose lives and thousands become permanently disabled. The number of dead and injured workers is so high in other sectors of economy but these are under reported due to absence of monitoring and response systems and mechanisms by the government.

In 2012, after deaths of 24 workers due to collapse of factory building in Lahore, Punjab had lifted ban on labour inspections in February 2012 but it again put ban on labour inspections, which was immediately followed by Sindh, where in Karachi about 300 workers including children and women had died in Baldia factory inferno 2012. Absence of labour inspections results hazardously and life taking working environment.  There are extremely poor occupational safety and health (OSH) standards and their implementation in Pakistan. Besides, there is no effective independent legislation on the issue, only the Factories Act, 1934, addressing workers’ health and safety issues but it has serious weaknesses.

The statement said that both formal and informal sectors’ factories and workshops are clicking bombs that time to time burst and take away lives of workers or disable them for always. The ISJ press release stated that these factories’ bombs will continue be bursting till the political parties and governments stop seeking funds from the owners of these factories for elections and other programs such as festivals and parties; and governments in return give them waiver from labour inspections and implementation of occupational, health and safety standards.

Sadly, in informal economy, debt bondage has resulted miserable lives for millions of poor families mainly in Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan. Last year, 1871 bonded labourers including 425 women and 944 children were released on the directions of Courts by the police but millions of them are still at large at the mercy of their masters in brick kiln, agriculture and mine sectors, deprived from their rights to survival, life, protection and development.

The ISJ lamented over workers’ poor access to social security in the country. The government’s figure suggests that only 1.56 million workers of a labour force of 59 million enjoy social security benefits; however there are no researches that have assessed the scale and quality of those benefits to such a small number of workers who enjoy social security benefits.

In 2013-14 budget, the federal government had increased minimum wage from Rs8,000 to Rs10,000 but neither the previous nor the new minimum wage rate is provided to workers. The ISJ said that deplorable working conditions and poor wage rates are resulting miseries to lives of poor and working class, which has further negative effects on the country and its development.

The ISJ press release stated that although the role of trade/labour unions has now remained limited to only entertaining employers and government officials including ILO officials for seeking projects and personal benefits. Donor driven projects have weakened the labour movement in Pakistan, which has taken away spirit of continuous and lasting struggles for workers’ rights. Trade unions part of the labour movement are least concerned about employers’ and government’s performance for the welfare of workers in the country.

The ISJ demanded the government to increase minimum wage up to Rs20000 and ensure its implementation. It also urged for introduction of a comprehensive labour friendly legislation and its implementation through strong and effective labour administration placed in every district of the country.