LAHORE: The Joint Action Committee of civil society organisations on Monday discussed the response of the government towards workers’ issues and noted that workers are in need of protection regarding their basic constitutional and labour rights of job protection and social security.

Basic rights, including job security, minimum wages, social security and old age benefits, occupational health and safety, freedom of association and collective bargaining have been compromised by majority of employers and the federal and provincial governments were not able to show a political commitment towards securing these basic rights of workers.

Since the lockdown situation from mid-March, many factory workers have not been paid wages for the month of February, observed the committee. In many of the cases, workers were not informed properly about the closure of factories and were left at the mercy of loans or charities by employers. Some big industrial groups announced the sacking of thousands of workers from their jobs in textile and garments which are the biggest industrial employment sectors of the country.

Not many workers in factories in Lahore, Karachi and Faisalabad were able to get their wages even after the factories were opened again at the end of April and May. In some cases, workers were also made to work on lower wage rates which was in clear violation of the minimum wages law. Those who were most affected by the lockdown were the informal sector workers, including home based workers who earned on daily wage basis mostly.

In general, these workers do not have any social protection and are commonly without the option of any other income. Homebased workers - mostly women – have lost their wages of work done in February and March due to the closure of markets, even though they are the main part of the supply chain of wholesale markets for garments, shoes, jewelry and other consumable items.

Meanwhile, domestic workers were also asked to remain at home by their employers due to the threat of spreading the virus. There was no social protection for these workers either despite the fact that there is a law in Punjab enacted for them.

The meeting noted the Sindh government has been trying to protect workers’ jobs by issuing a notification and then an ordinance but also added that the implementation of such efforts could not be possible without political will and resources. The Punjab Department of Labour and Human Resources also issued a notification for job security of workers in factories for the month of March but it was not implemented due to weak mechanisms.

JAC members said the Ehaas Programme by the federal government had been appreciated by the participants but it was only reaching less than five per cent of registered workers who ended up in benefitting from these schemes. The registration of workers in need was also a very difficult process and some civil society organisations did help workers in registration but the approval system of the Ehsaas Programme is not designed for this kind of emergency situation due to which many workers are unable to get approvals, said the members. And many are still waiting for any kind of response.

JAC members and representatives said they demanded that both federal and provincial governments ensure that all workers, both formal and informal sectors, receive their economic rights in these kinds of emergencies.

They added essential services’ workers like health workers should be provided with PPEs which are needed for their protection on an emergency basis. They said that the government should spend more on health and provision of universal social security in the budget for the next financial year.

Workers should receive wages announced on the fair wage basis and not on minimum wage standards. All workers should have access to their rights that have been ensured in the Constitution and in international treaties.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2020

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