KARACHI: To earn more profit margins, factory work is being diverted to the homework sector. Every year the number of home-based workers increases by at least five per cent in Pakistan. Whereas the home-based work thrives, the home-based workers are still among the poorest of the poor, said speakers at a press conference here on Thursday.

The press conference was organised by the Home-based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) at the Karachi Press Club on the completion of the first 10 years of their struggle.

The speakers said that 10 years ago, on Dec 30, 2009, the home-based women workers of Pakistan, writing a new history, had formed the first home-based women workers’ federation of the country and started their struggle, which finally resulted in giving a legal identity to more than five million home-based workers of Sindh.

They said Sindh is the first province of South Asia, which on May 9, 2018 through passing the Sindh Home-based Workers Act 2018, became the pioneer in lawmaking for home-based workers. Now the Rules of Business of this Act are in final phase and once they are made, the home-based workers of Sindh would get their due rights as other workers of the formal sector duly recognised by the labour laws.

Passed a year ago, the Sindh Home Based Workers Act 2018 is yet to be implemented

The speakers said they feel themselves happy that after their 10-year struggle the home-based workers, especially women workers, are now organised and also playing their due role in pro-democracy campaigns, but the home-based workers of Sindh are not happy that even after the passage of one year, the Sindh Home Based Workers Act 2018 is yet to be implemented.

They said that the home-based workers are the lowest paid workers. As per an estimate there are more than 12 million home-based workers in Pakistan and their number is rising at a rate of five per cent a year. However, their crucial role in the national economy is yet to be accepted and they are still deprived of their rights and social security privileges under the labour laws.

Home-based women workers face the cruelest exploitation because they even do not get wages equal to their male counterparts for the same work. As per an ILO report, the wage difference and violence on the basis of gender is on the rise. Women workers get 34pc less wages than the wages of male workers for the same work. As per a Global Wage Report for 2018-19, in Pakistan the 90pc of the lowest paid workers are women workers. As per another report, if corrective measures are not taken, it would take 100 years to bring wage parity and 200 years to bring gender equality in Pakistan.

They said that in value chain of every sector home-based women are being completely ignored. The textile-garment sector is the backbone of the national economy; however, the women workers belonging to this sector from cotton pickers to women working on machines in factories and in homes are working in conditions that are worse than slavery. This situation is against local laws and international standards, but the government, international institutions, multinational corporations and global brands are criminally ignoring it. The home-based women workers have been raising voice against these injustices for years and it is the result of their struggle that now lawmaking is made in Germany to compel the international brands to give workers their due rights, while a debate has already been started in European parliament for this type of lawmaking.

In Pakistan the women home-based workers, 80pc of home-based workers, have taken 10 years to get their status recognised. Our rulers think that they would attain economic growth by not giving rights to workers, but no economic growth is possible without social justice. Pakistan has already ratified the ILO Convention 36 and also accepted GSP-plus. Now they are talking of a ‘Pakistan Accord’ on the pattern of the Bangladesh Accord. However, despite this development, due rights to home-based workers is yet a distant dream. The growing price hike has made it very difficult for women home-based workers to survive economically.

The speakers said that to commemorate the first 10 years of the struggle of the women home-based workers, a big gathering of women home-based workers is being held at the Arts Council on Dec 30 at 3pm, in which women home-based workers from different districts of Pakistan would participate and present cultural programmes to highlight their issues. A documentary in this regard would also be shown. A Comrade Shanta Award would be given to home-based women workers for their heroic struggle. Leaders and workers of different workers federations and human rights organisations would also attend the event to show solidarity. At the end of the conference the future line of action of the struggle of the women home-based workers would also be announced.

The speakers demanded that the government of Sindh announce the rules of the business of the act and take necessary steps for the registration of the home-based workers with social security and EOBI. It demanded starting the registration of home-based workers to issue them cards.

Those who spoke included Zehra Khan of the Home-Based Women Workers Federation Karachi, Saira Feroze of the United Home-Based Garments Workers Union Karachi, Shakeela Khan of the Home-Based Women Bangle Workers Union Hyderabad, Jameela Abdul Latif of the Home-Based Women Bangle Workers Union Hyderabad, Shabnam Azam of the Home-Based Women Workers Federation Gadap, Zahida Mukhtar of United Home-Based Garment Workers Union New Karachi Godhra Colony, Ainee of Zradavi Workers Gadap and Kosuar Nissa of Rilli and Topi Makers Shahpur Chakar.

Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2019