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Quaid backed labour struggle

October 27, 2003

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ISLAMABAD, Oct 26: A new publication of the All Pakistan Labour Federation entitled Productive Role of Trade Unions and Industrial Relations in Pakistan reveals a less known fact about the Quaid’s activities as a labour leader. Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was not only a champion of the cause of workers but had been elected as the president of a leading trade union of British India, the All India Postal Staff Union, in 1925. The Postal Union had over 70,000 members.

The Quaid-i-Azam who was also a member of the Legislative Assembly at that time pleaded forcefully for the rights of the workers and strived for getting a ‘living wage and fair conditions’ for them. He played a key role in the enactment of the Trade Union Act of 1926 which for the first time gave the trade union movement of the South Asian subcontinent the legal cover that workers needed to organize themselves for collective bargaining.

The book reproduces interesting excerpts from the Assembly debate on the issue in which Mr Jinnah is seen battling to get suitable pay scales, allowances, housing accommodation, reduced hours of work, more holidays for the postal staff. The transcript of the debate also offers a contrast to the dismal decline the standard of proceedings has undergone in the national assembly of the country he founded.

The book discusses issues like employment and labour, trade union movement in the country, various aspects of industrial relations, trade union rights, internationally recognized rights and obligations, problems of accountability and transparency, the role of trade unions in workers’ education, the role of outsiders, the right to strike, workplace discipline, worker-employer cooperation, the issue of tripartism, the global labour movement and its role in globalization as well as some important case studies.

The study establishes that trade unions are legal entities; over time the movement has weakened in Pakistan due to undemocratic rule but now efforts are being made to merge labour federations; the movement is adopting a more participatory and rational approach in its struggle for the workers rights; the industrial relations ordinances (1969 and 2002) are more restrictive than promotional and their implementation has suffered a number of drawbacks but the 2002 Ordinance has certain aspects of improvement but it needs to be harmonized with ILO conventions; a large section of the work force is still prohibited from joining trade unions; the movement is playing a positive role in the education and training of workers; the role of outsiders is legitimate and their contribution to the movement is valuable; it is wrong to assume that trade unions are formed to undertake strikes; trade unions participate in tripartite and bilateral forums more vigorously than the employers; despite the restrictive nature of IRO the behaviour of trade unions has matured with more balanced approach to production and productivity as well as wages and benefits; and finally that globalization is not benefiting the people equitably.

The book is a very useful addition to the literature on the subject.—Mushir Anwar