IN the 1960s, Pakistan witnessed a massive wave of industrialisation. Even the American corporate giant, Esso Corporation — it later changed its name to Exxon Corporation and exists today as Engro Corporation — set up a fertiliser plant at Daharki in interior Sindh. In order to facilitate the employers in effectively managing their manufacturing units, Gen Ayub Khan’s government promulgated the Apprenticeship Ordinance, 1962.
In pursuance of this ordinance, the government went on to notify ‘apprenticeable trades’ — professions in which practical training and related theoretical instructions could be imparted to an apprentice to attain the desired level of skill and proficiency. Those industrial establishments that employed 50 or more persons could launch their apprenticeship schemes, have them registered with the government and enrol apprentices for a period of two or three years to learn the respective trades.
The rules for the ordinance were devised in 1966. They are quite comprehensive and provide complete procedural details for recruitment and selection of apprentices, their educational qualifications, issuance of contracts and the duration of apprenticeships, rates of stipends, working hours and leaves etc. The rules also outline the procedures for monitoring the progress of apprentices.
When I joined the fertiliser plant at Daharki in the field of industrial relations in May 1977, the company was already running a state-of-the-art apprentice training centre. Since a majority of the workers were either process operators or technicians, the centre catered to training apprentices in these two fields.
Some gaps remain in the law, which must be addressed.
The candidates upon completion of the programme became skilled technicians in various mechanical trades and trained operators capable of handling sophisticated chemical plants. Many graduates would be absorbed against vacancies in the plant while others would find employment with other large companies such as Aramco or Safco.
The apprenticeship programme was able to achieve this level of excellence through implementation of the 1962 ordinance in letter and spirit. However, the rapid pace of technological advancement has altered the prerequisites of almost every field, be it technical or something else. To address this gap, the Apprenticeship Act was enacted in 2018, and it repealed the 1962 ordinance. However, this act only extends to the Islamabad Capital Territory and is not applicable in the provinces.
Another initiative at macro level was taken by the government in the form of the National Training Ordinance, 1980, to set up training boards for the regulation and promotion of vocational training facilities. However, the importance of apprenticeship schemes cannot be stressed enough since they cater to the individual requirements of employers for trained manpower in trades relevant to their industries.
The law has brought significant changes to the provisions of Apprenticeship Ordinance, 1962. For instance, the unrealistic provision of fixing the apprentices’ stipend is now more pragmatic. Under the new apprenticeship law, the monthly stipend rate is 50 per cent of the minimum wage prescribed by the federal government during the entire training period.
Previously, a candidate leaving the apprenticeship without any genuine reason was required to pay the employer the total amount of expense incurred on his training. However, under the new law this amount will not exceed three months’ stipend and can also be waived by the competent authority. A clause in the ordinance that barred apprentices from participating in trade unions has also been removed.
Nevertheless, there are still some issues that need to be resolved. Presently, an apprentice is considered to be a ‘worker’ under all critical laws, including the law on old-age pension and the social security medical scheme. The Apprenticeship Act states that an apprentice shall only be treated as a trainee, not any kind of worker. In view of the existing labour laws and coverage of apprentices, this provision needs to be elaborated.
Moreover, since the provinces have to devise their own laws, there may be substantial differences in the terms of apprenticeship contracts among the provinces and federal areas, which may not be a desirable situation especially in sensitive matters such as union membership etc.
The provinces should therefore devolve the ordinance of 1962 without further delay but in coordination with each other and especially with the federal government, which has already enforced the more recent law, to safeguard the interests of both employers and apprentices.
The writer is an industrial relations professional and teaches at IBA.
Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2020