‘Only one per cent of Pakistan’s labour is unionised’

Published May 1, 2015
Only one per cent of  labour is unionised. So the labour gets exploited in such a situation, says Zubeida .—AFP/File
Only one per cent of labour is unionised. So the labour gets exploited in such a situation, says Zubeida .—AFP/File

KARACHI: Many challenges and injustices faced by the service sector in Pakistan were highlighted at the media launch of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) report titled Status of Labour Rights in Pakistan: 2014 at the Karachi Press Club here on Thursday, the eve of May Day.

“Here we have 60 million labourers and 55 million jobs. When the available labour is more than the available jobs, the employer gets to keep the upper hand,” pointed out senior journalist Zubeida Mustafa while speaking about the issues of workforce at the launch.

Also read: Helping labour

“And while the employer has the upper hand, only one per cent of labour is unionised. So the labour gets exploited in such a situation,” she added.

“The labour laws are there, but how many of these laws are implemented and how many actually apply? The land reforms have been set aside after being called ‘un-Islamic’! The poor working class, who make up most of the rural population, are also vote banks of big MNAs and MPAs. But they, too, don’t care about them or their rights,” she said.

“And when your human resource is facing such a situation, it automatically has an effect on the state. The state should take care of its human resource as they pay it taxes. But sadly the condition of our public hospitals, schools, etc, tell another tale. And what’s worse is that these institutions take aid from foreign donors and agencies. Where does all that aid go, by the way?” Ms Mustafa added.

Another thing that the senior journalist pointed out was the problem with ‘globalisation’.

“Globalisation gives a network to the elite while the poor labour class is being crushed,” she said.

Elaborating on that, she reminded of how rich people’s children appeared for O and A levels and how the poor appeared for local board exams, how the corporate sector operated here, how the labourers who lost their lives in the Baldia factory fire were busy making clothes for the foreign market. “We are submitting to globalisation,” she concluded.

Explaining the problems of the labour force further, Karamat Ali of Piler said that now people said that feudalism was no longer that rampant in Pakistan, but there were examples how the land of the hari was snatched from him by feudal lords. About the trade unions coming down to one per cent from 25pc during the 1950s, he explained that when workers went to register their union, the papers were sent to their particular organisation for verification, which worked against them as the owners getting wind of their plans just threw them out.

“May Day,” Mr Karamat Ali said, “was a movement where people fought and died, too, for eight hours a day of work. But if you aren’t even paid the minimum wages for those eight hours what do you do with the remaining hours of the day? The majority in Pakistan are working in the informal sector like Ali Enterprises in Baldia, which wasn’t even registered with the labour union department, and where people worked for 14 hours. So the government figures of labour jobs are misleading,” he added.

Suggesting measures for betterment to the government, he said: “Instead of just working on your labour policy structure, fix your social policy, economic policy and industrial policy. Otherwise there is no betterment in sight.”

Zeenat Hisam, editor of the report, said that Piler had been involved in such research for 33 years now. “This is our third report on the subject of labour rights. The report is in two parts. The first gives you the current situation and the second comprises research papers by various experts,” he added.

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2015

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