KARACHI: Pakistan has already ratified more than 38 International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions but still it is among the countries where violation of labour laws is a routine matter. More than 70 million workforce in the country is without their basic rights, said speakers at the ‘Textile garment workers convention’ held in the Korangi Industrial Area under the auspices of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) on Sunday.

The speakers said that workers of textile and garments sector earned the country more than 60 per cent of foreign exchange but these workers were toiling in factories where work conditions were even worse than slavery. They said without giving workers their due rights the country could not attain progress and democracy cannot flourish.

Nasir Mansoor, general secretary of the NTUF Pakistan, in his speech, said that millions of workers of textile and garment sector were deprived of their basic rights. He said fewer than one per cent of Pakistani workers enjoyed the right of making labour unions and electing collective bargaining agents.

‘Wages be fixed in proportion to price-hike’

He said that below five per cent of Pakistani labourers were registered with social security and pension institutions. He said that more than 90 per cent industrial and other organisations were not even registered with related labour institutions. He said minimum wages for unskilled workers were not being paid even to skilled workers.

Nasir Mansoor said that only three per cent workers had got written appointment letters. He said in textile and garments sector, illegal and inhuman contract system was in practice.

“This system has converted our workers to modern day slaves. Local factories working for international brands are forcing their labour to work for 200 hours monthly for wages against only 48 hours, which is just illegal.”

He said the international brands with the connivance of local industrialists had violated local and international labour laws and standards. He said growing lawlessness in factories and workplaces would force workers to opt for a resistance movement. He said sadly the government was safeguarding the interests of industrialists. He said the opposition parties have to pledge for defending the rights of workers so that their pro-democracy movement could get a success.

Karamat Ali, convener of the National Labour Council, said that workers were being forced to toil in unsafe working conditions, where industrial mishaps had become order of the day. “We have not learnt any lesson from the tragedy of Baldia factory fire. National Industrial Relations Commission (NIRC) has become a killer of labourers and now it is attacking the provincial autonomy ... this commission should be abolished as soon as possible.”

Habibuddin Junaidi, president of the Peoples Labour Bureau, said it was a serious matter that labour laws were present but not being implemented. He said all institutions should play their due role in proper implementation of labour laws. He said these institutions were established to safeguard the interests of labourers, but sadly they were safeguarding the interests of industrialists.

Zahra Khan, general secretary of the Home Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) said that worsening working conditions and prolonged labour hours in textile and garment factories were not only violation of local labour laws, but also against the GSP Plus agreement.

She said the international fashion brands had adopted a criminal silence over the issue as they were earning billions of rupees. “These brands are also befooling their buyers in Europe and North America.”

These brands had assured the Global Framework Agreement (GFA) that the local factories making products for them would allow their workers to have their labour unions besides providing them better wages, better working conditions and social security, but their local factories are still sweathouses.

Other speakers included Owais Jatoi, Ghulam Nabi, Aqib Hussain, Shah Faisal and Rehmat Baloch.

At the convention, NTUF office-bearers for the Korangi Kndustrial Area were also elected.

Demands at the convention

The convention demanded that all workers should be given right to have their labour unions and elect their collective bargaining agents (CBAs).

It demanded written appointment letters for all workers. It said workers should be registered with the social security and EOBI institutions and cards of these institutions should be directly issued to the workers.

It demanded that unskilled workers be paid minimum wages as per announcement of government. It called for taking legal action against all those factories who were found forcing labourers to work more than 48 hours a week.

It also demanded an end illegal contract labour system. Workers should be given all their rights as pledged to the European Union under GSP Plus. Universal Social Security should be introduced urgently, it said.

Local factories making products for international fashion brands should implement the agreements with labour organisation under the Global Framework Agreements.

Instead of anti-worker private social auditing, proper labour inspection system should be introduced. Factory owners should be barred from using law-enforcing agencies in case of industrial disputes.

Industries, especially textile and garment industries, should be given subsidy in gas and electricity. Zero-rating system should be revived and modern labour colonies be built in the Korangi, SITE and other industrial zones at government’s expenses, the convention demanded.

In all industrial zones of Karachi roads be repaired and proper public transport system be provided.

The convention participants demanded that health and education facilities be provided within the neighbourhoods of workers. Wages be increased in proportion to price hike. They demanded a halt to the implementation of anti-people agenda of international lending institutions, especially the IMF.

Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2020