LAHORE: Despite having been finalised in 2015, the Punjab Home Based Workers’ (HBWs’) Bill 2015 has been pending in the Legislative Committee of the Labour Department whereas, the Sindh Assembly is the first to have passed the act in March 2018, which is to protect the rights of home-based workers and ensure equal treatment to them and their dependents in case of sickness, maternity leave, injury or death.

Last year, the Punjab government also rolled out a new Labour Policy in December 2018 in a bid to improve the conditions of labourers in the province. After much ado, finally, the Domestic Workers’ Act of 2019 was also passed earlier in January. Even then, the law has some lacunae the biggest being the age factor (minimum age for domestic labour is only 15 years) – indirectly allowing child labour.

But the advocacy for the Home Based Workers’ Act has been ongoing since 2009, and especially after the passage of the 18th Amendment in 2010, devolving authority to provinces for bringing their own laws. At the same time, the Home Based Workers’ Bill has still not even been passed by the federal government.

Umme Laila, executive director of the HomeNet Pakistan, says several parliament members have raised this as an issue, but still it is a mystery as to why it is being delayed. “It seems as if the government is not very serious about it,” she said.

She says the law has been finalised since the last three years but till date, there has been no progress.

“In December 2018 both laws for HBWs and Domestic Workers were put up for approval under a 100 days agenda,” she adds. “But the latter act was passed and approved but the HBWs Bill has been going back and forth.”

After the passage of the Domestic Workers’ Act of 2019, the government’s focus towards the HBWs, their exploitation, and how they can extensively contribute to the GDP, is integral.

The original draft was made by the Labour Department with several others present as stakeholders. Approved by them, the bill was sent onwards. But something has held it back from being passed on.

Labour Department Director Daud Abdullah has also a little idea why this is happening.

“I know it has been several years now for the bill to be with the Cabinet Committee,” he said. “However, I believe they are having some kind of issue of understanding it properly.”

He said he could not identify what exactly the issue was. “I do not exactly know if it is because of lack of resources or because some clauses have to be amended. In any case, it is on our agenda and it is being worked on.”

However, he said no date could be given.

Sources, however, said that the delay may be due to the hassle over payment on social security, about who will pay the contribution.

WORKERS’ GRIEVANCES

Because of the delay in policy making, home-based workforce in Punjab remains unsure of their status.

Rukhsana Bibi have been waiting all her life for something positive to happen as she continues to strive in terrible circumstances to make handmade jewellery. The 70 years old, and still working, has bad eyesight and has even suffered from reproductive problems, because of sitting in one position for several hours a day, yet what she earns is never enough to cover her medical expenditures.

Like other home-based workers, she has never been registered, and therefore has no social security, over time, old age benefits, etc. When she receives Rs400 a day, it is a happy day for her.

“When we heard about a new law coming for us, I was very positive as I felt maybe now women like me would get compensation for the hours of hard work that we put in,” she says. “But we are still waiting. Hopefully, it will happen while I am still alive.”

Even when the law is passed, there will be a long way to go for implementation.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2019