“The dusty files are signs of work done in favour of the poor workers.” These comments by S. Aijaz Ali Shah (Aug 19) have prompted me to narrate the environment and conditions under which the government’s labour department operates. I have been called thrice to visit the labour department’s office in Phase II Extension of DHA, Karachi.
The writer further states: “No doubt, labour inspection is a scientific exercise carried out by grade 16 and grade 17 officers.”
The office functions in a four-storey narrow building without a lift, which appears to have been built at a low cost without consulting an architect.
Let me explain as to what type of science is involved in the inspection. Mostly inspection is carried out under the Sindh Factories Rules, 1975, framed under the Factories Act, 1934, which need drastic amendments.
The Rules cater to old times when electronic systems were not introduced. The inspectors check various types of registers such as register of adult workers (Rule 96), overtime (Rule 101), holidays (Rule 106), child workers (Rule 120), display of factory notices (Rule 121), spittoons (Rule 48) and the quality of drinking water (Rule 1).
The appointment of a welfare officer and his assistant is mandatory under law. The monthly salary of the welfare officer has been prescribed as Rs1,000 and that of his assistant as Rs750, though the current minimum wage announced by the government is Rs11,000 a month. There are many other similar absurdities in the Rules.
In his letter (Aug 23), Khalil Osto, ex-Deputy Director (Labour), Hyderabad, has criticised Mr Aijaz Ali by stating that officers of the labour department did nothing to enforce labour laws in factories. Out of the seven Ordinances/Acts quoted by him, the names of four have been wrongly written.
During my over 40 years of association with the industry, I have not seen labour department officers making any positive changes in the functioning of the factories. How can one expect them now to bring revolutionary changes based on laws which are obsolete!
Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2014