MAY Day celebration in Pakistan had relevance until the 1970s when respective governments had concern for labour welfare and they would make improvements in the benefits from time to time. A combination of enhancement in benefits received by workers, through collective labour agreements reached with their respective employers and those allowed by the legislation, would provide them adequate relief to manage the ever-increasing cost of living.
There was acute labour unrest in the country during the early 1970s but that was also the era which created awakening among industrial workers about their rights under the labour laws.
Encouraged by the freedom to act allowed to them by the then PPP government, our labour unions and federations exerted extreme pressure on mill owners and employers to concede to them benefits and privileges even higher than those permitted by the law.
Unfortunately, they transgressed the limits and the resultant unlawful strikes and violence led to the closure of many industries which, consequently, brought a quick decline to the labour movement. Now industrial workers are hard-pressed against the high cost of living and non-compliance with labour laws by a majority of local employers.
Since the state does not contribute to key requirements of medical and education assistance, workers unions expect the same to be provided by their employers. When funds available with employers for the periodical collective labour agreements are divided among various heads, not much is left to meet the worth the 1970s’ workers’ other critical needs.
Going back to the ’70s, a number of labour welfare laws were promulgated by the then government to provide housing and other facilities, including education assistance, cost of living relief and old-age pension to industrial workers.
Following the 18th Amendment, all labour welfare laws have now reached a stage where their survival appears to be in jeopardy.
In view of the foregoing facts, the May Day celebration has become a ritual.
LABOUR Day is observed in most countries of the world including Pakistan. However, even on this day, I have observed labourers slaving from morning till evening to put food on the table for their families. This makes for a depressing sight as everyone makes the most of this public holiday except the poor labourer.
On this day, the right noises are made by all and sundry be it politicians, the pulpit, media et al about the dignity of labour and the rights of labourers, only to be forgotten till next year.
As far as Pakistan is concerned, it is time that labour was recognised as an essential pillar for the country’s progress and accorded the respect it deserves.
Tehreem Fazal Qureshi
The history of Labour Day can be traced to around 1810 when the ‘eight-hour’ movement began which demanded that every worker work eight hours in a day. This idea took off in New Zealand, then a fledgeling British colony, gathered pace in Australia, was picked up in Canada — all British possessions — and came to a head in America when 40,000 workers protested and went on strike to press for their rights.
To this day, more than 175 countries observe May 1 as Labour Day while others observe this day on Sept 1. The point is that the dignity of labour is remembered and paid tribute to — albeit token — all over the world. At this point let us not forget that it is Islam that first upheld the rights of labour, directing Muslims to follow a stringent code to ensure the labourer received justice and humane treatment.
Another May 1 has come around. Let us dedicate it to the rights of labourers and that they are treated with dignity and respect.
Shahzaib Ali Noonari
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2018