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Workers demand their constitutional rights

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Labour rights activists shout slogans and wave placards inscribed with slogans in favour of workers during a rally on Sunday.—AFP
Labour rights activists shout slogans and wave placards inscribed with slogans in favour of workers during a rally on Sunday.—AFP

KARACHI: Various workers organisations held seminars, symposia and took out processions to mark International Labour Day (May Day) on Sunday. The refrain at all events was the demand to abolish the contract system, and fix the minimum wages of a worker at par with the price of one tola of gold so that poor workers could support their families in a respectable manner.

Speaking at a meeting organised jointly by the Trade Unions Federation and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists at the Karachi Press Club, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani said that the contract system had been introduced to cripple trade unions. He termed it against the constitution and demanded that it be abolished.

He regretted that the workers of Pakistan International Airline (PIA) were not supported by other trade unions in their struggle and said that if the privatisation of PIA was allowed, it would pave the way for the privatisation of other national assets such as Steel Mills, Sui Gas etc.

Senator Rabbani urged Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah to appoint a labour minister who understood problems being faced by workers and was sympathetic towards them.

Earlier, a procession was taken out at the Empress Market which at the press club turned into a rally.

Labour leaders Kaneez Fatima and Zulfiqar Shah, speaking at a rally organised by the Municipal Workers Trade Unions Alliance, said workers would not allow the authorities to hand over services like garbage collection, charged parking, etc that were currently being provided by the civic agencies to contractors. They demanded that municipal workers be provided their salaries on time, the contract system be abolished, workers employed on contracts be regularised, and children of deceased workers be given jobs under the son quota.

The municipal workers had earlier taken out a procession from the KMC workshop that ended at the KPC, where they rallied for their demands.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, in his message on the occasion of May Day, said that laws had been formulated under which the Employees Old Age Benefit Institution and Workers Welfare Board were being brought under the Sindh government so that workers could be better served. He said flats built for workers had been encroached on, but they were being vacated so that they could be handed over to deserving workers.

The Pakistan Awami Tehreek and the Sindh National Party also organised rallies where speakers demanded that the working conditions of the workers be improved and their salaries be raised.

The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) organised three workshops at the Women of the World Festival held at the Beach Luxury Hotel.

The running theme of these workshops was how to make labourers and startups more aware of the opportunities surrounding them. The workshops apprised participants about the differences in the wages given to men and women, how to deal with harassment at workplace, and how to begin one’s own business within a budget of Rs100,000.

Executive director of Piler Karamat Ali said wage gaps existed in almost every economic sector of Pakistan. “For instance,” he added, “women, who largely work in the garment sector, are paid far less than what men working in the same sector earn. There is a difference of 50 per cent between their wages.”

He elaborated that the issues in implementing the minimum wage in the private sector as well as raising the wage earned by women in the garment factories, among other issues, was the result of non-participation and an absence of women in trade unions, including contractual employment of workers in general.

The two women on the panel of speakers, advocate at Habib Bank Nosheen Ahmed, and a representative of the Sindh ombudsman working for protection against harassment at workplace, Uzma Al-Karim, spoke about how women dealt with harassment and what their respective organisations did about it. Advocate Nosheen said it was important for women working in small or big companies to receive their appointment letters, “as without it, it becomes easier for the companies to fire them at will.”

Ms Al-Karim claimed that at present “28 centres have been established at the district level for women to register their complaints against harassment”. Explaining the procedure of filing a complaint, she said it should be filed to an inquiry committee within the organisation which should decide the case within 30 days after hearing out both the parties. The ombudsman’s office could be informed in case there was no inquiry committee.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2016