Task force urged to assess losses to industry, ensure workers’ rights

March 18, 2020

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Labour leaders speak at the press conference at the KPC on Tuesday.—White Star
Labour leaders speak at the press conference at the KPC on Tuesday.—White Star

KARACHI: A representative body of workers, the National Labour Council, called a joint press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Tuesday to air concerns about the circumstances of workers, especially workers of factories and workshops, many of whom happen to be daily wagers, in case of closure of factories and workshops due to the coronavirus.

Habibuddin Junaidi of the Peoples Labour Bureau said that the government should constitute a task force to determine the financial losses to the industry and companies and find means to ensure workers’ rights. “Many of the workers may lose their means of income in the advent of closure of industry. We ask of the government to set up a special fund to ensure their regular income,” he said.

“We also demand a proper screening system along with taking necessary protective measures at workplaces to check the spread of the virus,” he said.

Nasir Mansoor of the National Trade Union Federation drew the attention of the media to the federal government which is “taking things too easy”.

“This is a global issue and all governments need to help their citizens even though our government is still in denial as it is not doing much for the people,” he said.

Free tests, medicines for coronavirus patients demanded

“There should be free testing for coronavirus, there should be free medicines too,” he said.

“Then many businesses have also closed without caring to pay their employees which is not good. They may close or send their workers on leave but with pay,” he said.

Zulfiqar Shah of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research said that the country had a 65 million labour force while 75 per cent belonged to the informal sector. “We appreciate the measures taken by the Sindh government regarding the virus but it does not include the workers. How will the economic impact of it all hit them is something to be considered,” he said.

He also said that 60pc of Pakistan’s exports were textile and most of the orders were from Europe, which is not doing well. “The export orders are getting cancelled, which will have a direct effect on the workers. So if they don’t die of coronavirus, they certainly will die from hunger,” he said.

Ferhat Perveen of the National Organisation for Working Communities pointed out that the Sindh Protection Unit must have data about the most badly affected areas where people may need food or medicine. She said they also needed testing and health facilities. “The government already has data about the needy thanks to the Benazir Income Support Programme, so they should know who to reach out to. The lady health workers here are also at risk,” she pointed out.

The labour leaders underlined the need to have close coordination among all the provinces and federal government departments to face this natural calamity.

They welcomed holding of a video conference by the heads of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) member countries on how to tackle the coronavirus threat and appreciated the decisions made by all the regional countries.

The labour leaders demanded that much-delayed summit of Saarc should be held as soon as possible in Pakistan as this is the right time to meet and discuss pressing issues of the region.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2020