Labour in a limbo

March 09, 2014


KARACHI: In the wake of the GSP+ status, labour laws have all of a sudden become a relevant issue for the state and those running its affairs. However, lawyers, labour leaders, workers and a cross-section of society blame poor enforcement of labour laws on the government, the inspection mechanism and partly on relevant courts that generally fail to provide relief to the working class.

The number of unionised workers is on the decline in Pakistan because 95 per cent of the workforce has no appointment letters which is mandatory to establish the identity of a factory worker, said labour leader Nasir Mansoor. Railway Workers Union’s Manzoor Razi said the labour movement had weakened because labourers got divided on ethnic, sectarian and political grounds.

Leading lawyer Abid Hassan Manto was of the view that there was a need for specific laws for safety of textile sector workers, like those working underground or in mines.

The grant of GSP+ was a good omen, but the country had to bring its house in order to avoid any possible restrictions as was the case with Bangladesh, he warned.

A majority of the labourers interviewed criticised the failure of the government to get the country’s laws and international conventions implemented. Human Resource personnel were tailoring anti-worker strategies which were ultimately being contested in courts of law. Formation of trade unions has legal cover and the issuance of a formal appointment letter is obligatory, but they continue to be violated, argued the labourers.

Labour leader Kaneez Fatima pointed out that although Pakistan had ratified ILO and UN conventions, there was no permanent labour force in any textile unit of Faisalabad.

All those working for the past decade have either been hired on direct or third-party contracts and were forced to do extra hours.

According to her, labour welfare boards, labour welfare funds and social security institutions were in the hands of those who had “least understanding of labour welfare”.

Whatever was left was destroyed by the political parties, she said, adding that the NGOs lacked the “revolutionary spirit” to fight for the labourers.

Khursheed Ahmed of Pakistan Workers Confederation said he had written a letter to the prime minister to make the country abide by international labour standards so that its exports might not face restriction on account of violation of rights.

It recommended measures to abolish child and bonded labour, and to bring labour laws in conformity with the principles laid down in the Constitution.

Senator Saeed Ghani claimed that the government had done nothing for the labourers during its eight months in office.

He said he would raise the issue in the Senate so that GSP+ requirements were fulfilled by the employers.