May 2, 2011

Low on priority

Many labour laws are yet to be implemented despite the commitment shown by the government every year

By Mohammad Javed Pasha

International Labor Organization (ILO) in the recent years has initiated an Agenda for Decent Labor with the motto of Decent Work for All. The Decent Work concept was formulated by the ILO’s constituents - governments, employers and workers - as a means to identify the Organisation’s major priorities. It is based on the understanding that work is a source of personal dignity, family stability, peace in the community, democracies that deliver for people, and economic growth that expands opportunities for productive jobs and enterprise development.

Decent Work reflects priorities on the social, economic and political agenda of countries and the international system. The agenda includes opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organise and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

The Decent Work Agenda calls for more balanced distribution of wealth within a country, through measures such as improved workers’ representation, collective bargaining, and tripartite consultations (government, employers, and workers).

A brief profile of the labour force characteristics reveals that in Pakistan on the basis of estimated Population of 148.72 million for the year 2004 and the labour force participation rate of 29.61 as per the Labor Force Survey 2001-02, the total labour force is estimated at 45.05 million. Of this, 30.19 million (67.03 percent) is in the rural areas and14.85 million (32.97 percent) is in the urban areas. It is sad to say that the issues of this large number of population have not been taken seriously on social, economic and political government neither by the democratic government not military regime. The economic deserter, power shutdown, energy crisis and poor government policies have transformed the decent work of labor and working-class an indecent work dilemma.

Decent Work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives - for opportunity and income, for rights, voice and recognition, for family stability and personal development. The decent work is captured in four strategic objectives: a) fundamental principles and rights at work and international labour standards; b) employment and income opportunities; c) social protection and social security; and d) social dialogue, in its member countries. But in Pakistan the introduction of the 18th Amendment has raised many issues with the decentralized policy of the Ministry of Labor and Manpower to the provinces. There are many concerns and reservations need clarifications on certain issues.

It is important to mention that the government in Labour Policy 2010 had promised to introduce minimum wage of Rs7000 and its transaction through banks, a comprehensive Social Insurance for old-age benefits and health services, issuance of Smart Cards, establishment of a Tripartite Council on Health and Safety to identify health and safety hazards for workers at district levels, scholarships for workers’ children for higher studies, extending of applicability of EBOI Act to the contingent/project employees and eliminating gender based discrimination in salaries.

Since the adoption of 18th Amendment, discussions have been under way to decide on the devolution of organisational structure of Workers Welfare Fund and EOBI, with allocation of their human resource and funds to provinces, along with distribution of existing assets, the province of KPK and Baluchistan may suffer because of fewer reserves in this head. Trade Union could be formed only in as institution having at least 50 employees. The representation of staff member of a workplace in its trade union has been enhanced from the previous 75 percent to 80 percent. Workers of around 4,200 brick kilns in Punjab are likely under this section to be excluded from the ambit of the law and from forming lawful unions.

Labour leaders and trade unions have concerns over the new Punjab labour law that reduces the number of ‘outsiders’ allowed in a union’s executive from 25 percent to 20 percent and this will harm workers’ right to derive strength from the society wherever a union lacks expertise. Similarly, the appointment of presiding officers of labour courts and tribunals by the provincial government without reference to the High Court will undermine workers’ confidence in labour courts.

Trade unions regret the failure of Punjab lawmakers to define the role and obligations of ‘contractor’. They also protest against the fact that the law approved by the Punjab Assembly is less friendly as there is no hope of enforcement of the minimum wage and other measures in the absence of a system of labour inspection.

The tragic story of workers engaged in informal economy is more serious than the labour force working in the formal economy. Presently over 65% of labor forces earns their livelihood through informal economic activities. The numbers of homebased workers both men and women are increasing speedily. One simple reason is the escaping of entrepreneurs, factory owners and business men from fulfilling their obligation of providing social security and other benefits to their workers. They have started to appoint workers on daily wages, part-time or short-term contract basis. They have also initiated to sublet a large portion of their work to the private contractors and middle men to manage at their own, which is eventually carried out by homebased workers. Thus, they are able to show a small strength of workers to save their money and time, etc, being spent on social benefits of workers; they might be liable under law.

Home-based workers living in almost every low-income urban locality in the country, as well as in remote rural areas, are amongst the most exploited group of workers today. They constitute a major segment of labor deployment in the informal sector of the economy. As a workforce, home-based workers are remained largely ‘invisible’.

Home-based women workers who comprise 70 percent of the informal workforce contributing towards the country’s economic activities are not recognised as labourers and, hence, deprived of their rights of social security, minimum wage fixation and other benefits. They are not reflected in national statistics and recognised as workers in the labor laws and other laws of the country.

The May Day reminds us that there is a dire need to bestow the rights of workers to them, including giving fair wage and providing social security with due respect by addressing the ILO conventions and standards in its true sprit. Taking practical steps to enforce Decent Work Agenda is an assurance of Decent Work for All and vice a versa.

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