THE PUNJAB Prohibition of Child Labour at Brick Kilns Ordinance 2016, promulgated last month forbids hiring children below 14 years of age. It also regulates the employment of adults by requiring written contracts which can be terminated by either party.

The ordinance requires brick kiln owners to provide written contract to every worker specifying wages, amount of advance (peshgi) and schedule for its return. It limits the amount of advance to the maximum of six times of the wages of a worker for one wage period (time- rated or piece rated). The brick kiln owner or occupier is also required to send a copy of the contract to the labour inspector of the area.

The Labour and Human Resource Department has set up a free helpline (0800-55444) for lodging complaints about child labour at brick kilns. The department has indicated that 17,240 labourers were residing at 6,090 kilns in Punjab and the number of children (from five years to 14 years) not attending school was 23,642 of which 22,368 were provided admissions to schools located near the kilns. Nearly 201 kilns have been sealed on violation of provisions of the ordinance.

However, the ordinance does not conform to the ILO core conventions 138 and 182 on child labour (both ratified by Pakistan) and has same issues as Employment of Children Act 1991 (adopted by Punjab in 2011). The working hours need to be set for school going children of brick kiln workers (eg two-three hours per day for children aged 12 years and above) after school hours by specifying ‘light work’ as required under the ILO Convention 138.

Laws cannot have contradictory provisions: requiring compulsory education while allowing children to engage in full-time jobs before they complete compulsory education

The brick making process can be hazardous as it involves not only preparing the clay or moulding the clay into balls but also firing the bricks, so the minimum age for a full-time job at a kiln must be raised to 16 years in line with the provisions of Article 25-A of the Constitution and the corresponding law ‑ Punjab Free And Compulsory Education Act 2014.

Also, the ordinance should have specified the minimum age for certain activities considered hazardous as 18 years. It must also be named the activities and areas, which may be allowed, with proper protections, for persons over the age of 16 years at a kiln.

By restricting minimum age for compulsory education at 16 years, the government is inducing children to take up jobs and leave education.

The provincial government has also announced a special package for education of children working at kilns. Besides free education, a monthly stipend of Rs1,000 will be given to every child going to school whereas an annual stipend of Rs2,000 will be paid to parents on admission of children to schools.

The Punjab Education Foundation (PEF) has launched a programme to provide free education (including free uniform and shoes) to children of brick kiln workers through its partner schools.

Kiln owners are also required to get workers registered with the social security department and Employees’ Old Age Benefits Institution.

The objective is to effectively deal with the root cause of slipping into bonded labour by reducing vulnerabilities of workers’ families.

The Supreme Court’s order of July 2013 had directed the Punjab government to register brick kiln workers for social security and the kiln owners to contribute 6pc of workers’ wages to the social security department. The registration entitles workers and their family members to health care and medical facilities, including hospitalisation, by the Employees’ Social Security Institution, and to get treatment for family members in case of injury and compensation for death at work.

It seems that now convictions against violation of law will easily be obtained since the inspectors notified under the ordinance are district management and police officials. This will help curbing the menace of bonded labour. It is relevant to mention that no conviction has been secured under the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act 1992 during the last 23 years due to complexity of its working.

Since this ordinance is promulgated initially for 90 days, it is necessary that the required amendments may be included in the bill to be placed before the Punjab Assembly for enactment of law.

Laws cannot have contradictory provisions: requiring compulsory education while allowing children to engage in full-time jobs before they complete compulsory education.

The writer works as a labour specialist with the Wage Indicator Foundation.

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, February 15th, 2016


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