LAHORE: Trade unions and NGOs working for labour rights have criticised the draft labour policy shared with them at a recent stakeholders’ consultation by the Punjab government.

The labour policy is being prepared with the help of International Labour Organisation (ILO) in the wake of GSP Plus status the country has been given by the European Union under the condition of compliance with 27 global standards in the areas of labour, human rights, environment and governance.

The critics, including the Labour Education Foundation (LEF) and Pakistan Workers Federation (PWF), say the government should have convened a tripartite (employees, employers and government) conference instead of holding the consultation on the policy.

LEF director Khalid Mahmood says 80pc of the workers, who are not members of any trade union, remained unrepresented in the consultation. Most of those invited were elderly leaders unaware of the prevailing working conditions and the present day problems of the workers.

The draft admits that the labour inspection machinery of substance, as yet, is not in place as the existing machinery faces constraints of capacity and capability and was overburdened with unnecessary work like “enforcement of weights and measures laws on factories, shops and establishments including petrol pumps”.

It recommends institutionalisation of joint inspections by teams comprising one representative each of employers and workers from the same city and same industrial estate to eliminate any corrupt practices and enhance protection to workers.

The call for encouraging involvement of the private sector in the provision of labour inspection services through licensing and accreditation arrangements has also been challenged by the policy critics.

PWF’s Niaz Khan rejects the step, terming it an agreement between the producer and buyer, giving undue control to the investors/owners in extracting a positive report.

Referring to the Karachi garments factory fire in which several workers were burnt to death, he said the unit had got SA-8000 certificate just two weeks before the incident.

Mahmood said such an agreement also did not talk of minimum wages and that whether the workers of a particular unit had freedom of association or not.

He also regretted that the policy lacked any penalty for the owners failing to meet the inspection criterion.

The policy talks of capacity building and provision of necessary infrastructural support to the inspection machinery, and establishing field offices at tehsil level in phases.

It gives another controversial recommendation -- contributions from employees too, initially at the rate of 4pc of the minimum wage. Presently, only employers contribute for social security and protection of workers.

Mahmood said the measure that had been abolished in 1969, if revived, would overburden the workers whose wages were already very low.

A proposal that was welcomed by all was about fixation of 33pc quota for women workers, duly elected or nominated by the registered federations, in all the tripartite structures of labour-related institutions. It suggests unions at workplaces with more than half of the workforce comprising females should have at least two-thirds of women in the executive bodies and not less than half as office-bearers. In other unions, at least one-tenth of women workers should be in the executive body and office-bearers.

To the disadvantage of workers, the policy recommends that benefits to workers are exclusively linked with productivity with the condition that a transparent mechanism is established to determine the productivity. It recognises the right of employer to hire and fire but with the proviso that letter of appointments are institutionalised and a due procedure is followed for “firing”, including a prior consultation with shop steward and/or CBA as well as a notice to the employee.

About the implementation mechanism, it suggests a ‘Policy Planning and Implementation Cell’ responsible for implementation and monitoring, initially as a three-year project.

Districts are to emerge as the focal point for implementing the policy with establishment of Labour Protection Committees (LPCs). These bodies will comprise all responsible institutions and key stakeholders, to be presided over by deputy commissioners mandated to convene at least one meeting in a quarter.

To make the initiative effective, it proposes a Labour Protection Council under the chairmanship of the labour minister.