May Day: Labour rights in Pakistan

Islamabad: The Institute for Social Justice (ISJ) notices no change in workers, labourers, farmers and haris (share croppers) and their families’ lives rather their situation has deteriorated and worsened badly to the extent that they are committing suicide. The ISJ demanded pro-worker prorgammes and policies, increase of minimum wage up to Rs18000 per month, regularization of informal economy workers, social security a fundamental right of every worker/labourer, compliance with the ILO’s core Conventions and implementation of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

On the occasion of May Day, the ISJ’s press statement revealed that due to poor power generation policies and practices, thousands of mills, workshops and factories have partially and completely closed, which has rendered millions of workers and labourers jobless and helpless. Each year thousands of workers die or lose their body parts due to fatal accidents during work. Majority of these do not get any protection and support. The ISJ is concerned that in 2012, Baldia factory disaster 270 workers were burnt alive and thousands were injured, but yet injured and families of deceased are waiting for the compensation.

Though there is no exact number of total workers/labourers in informal sector in Pakistan because of the absence of empirical surveys; however, of the 58 million workers recognized by Pakistan only 2.1 million workers are registered for social security.

Though the Constitution of Pakistan give right to form association so that workers, labourers, employees can get their legal demands accepted, but in many industrial units and organizations, workers/labourers are stopped to form their unions and associations. The ISJ said that over the last five years, inflation has risen and workers and their families have suffered through miseries. Worker/labourers are unable to provide basic amenities to their families. About 90 percent informal economy workers do not have legal protection; they cannot claim minimum wage, decent work, human attitude from owners and employers.

The federal government fixed Rs8000 minimum wage but there are thousands of registered industrial units and workshops, mines, mills where workers are not provided the fixed wage. They work 12 hours for less than Rs5000 per month.  Not only the wage but treatment of the management or employers, owners with workers is harsh and degrading. Still millions of workers are working as bonded labourers along with their families across the country in almost all sectors of the economy but severe types of slavery is found in fisheries, agriculture, brick kiln, mines and domestic work. Besides women, millions of children are working in hazardous conditions without or on nominal wage and without any basic human rights.    

The ISJ is concerned about more than 60 percent of haris in agriculture sector who are deprived of basic rights as well as infrastructure and social security protection. These harsi are faced with salinity and water-logging which have caused decline in the agriculture production. In addition to that, floods in 2010, 2011 and 2012 have devastated the agriculture sector and rendered millions of haris without shelters, food and work.

“Today workers, labourers and haris at the mercy of employers and the government, which have brought them to the verge of it adversity”, the ISJ regretted in the press release. It also said that due to poor performance and role of both employers and the governments, Pakistan is ranked 136th out of 142 countries with regard to labour market efficiency and growth as reported in the Global Competitiveness Report 2012. These both responsible stakeholders have kept workers/labourers in isolation and always marginalized so that they should not be empowered and flourish and ultimately contribute in the national economy.

The ISJ lamented that Pakistan ratified a total of 34 ILO conventions, including eight core conventions but the relevant ministries and departments have not complied with it. Most of the national labour laws are weak or in favour of employers; if there are certain protections for the rights of labourers, these are not used for the workers because labour inspectors, labour courts and labour departments are not effectively working.

The ISJ’s statement said that Pakistan ratified the Internal Covenant on Economic Social Cultural Right on 17th July 2008. In June 2010, Pakistan had to submit initial report which is and there is no progress after the lapse of about three years. Government’s this attitude will not only disappoints international community but also deprives workers and labourers from their basic economic, social and cultural rights enshrined in the ICESCR.

The Senate of Pakistan should immediately pass the Bill called the Constitution (Amendment) Act 2010 introduced as private member bill in 2011 through which a new Article was proposed to be inserted, namely:- “19-B Right to Social Security which stated that every citizen shall have a right to social security which includes provision of such financial resources or basic necessities like food, clothing and health cover through a system of national security service, and the in the absence of social security measures a person, in need of necessary social security cover, may approach the local court which shall refer his/her case to concerned authorities for immediate relief without any delay.