KARACHI: The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) has underscored the need for laying down a resilient system for occupational safety and health measures at workplaces in the country.

In a statement issued on the occasion of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on Wednesday, Piler executive director Karamat Ali said the existing system, especially labour inspection mechanism in the provinces, had failed to ensure protection of workers’ lives and well-being.

He regretted that every year “hundreds” of workers lost their lives while working, especially in coal mines and other industries in the major cities of Pakistan.

The day mainly focuses on strategies to strengthen national occupational safety and health systems to build resilience in order to face crises now and in the future, drawing on lessons learned and experiences from the world of work.

According to a recent report quoting Pakistani mineworkers’ unions, at least 208 workers lost their lives in mines of coal and other minerals only in 2020.

Pakistan has so far not ratified an important Convention of the ILO, No. 176 Safety and Health in Mines Convention, 1995.

“We demand the government of Pakistan to ratify this convention and make legislation accordingly,” he said.

Mr Ali said the spread of Covid-19 has aggravated the situation of health and safety issues at workplaces as managements of the private sector establishments did not observe the standard operating procedures (SOPs). Therefore, workers faced threats to their lives as they were the most vulnerable sections of the industrial sector, he added.

The Piler statement pointed out that in Sindh, a special law called the Sindh Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2017 had been enacted, which exclusively dealt with occupational safety and labour inspections at all workplaces. In this regard a Sindh Occupational Safety and Health Council has been established, which has representatives from employers, employees and technical experts.

He said implementation of laws was the main problem in Pakistan. The Factories Act 1934 and later adoption of the same law by the provincial assemblies had made the provincial governments competent to enforce an effective labour inspection system. But unfortunately, the system was faulty. Even in the past, the governments had stopped labour inspections for many years. Recently the Punjab government had initiated a campaign of inspection-less work, which had discouraged the inspection system, he added.

Currently, export processing zones are already exempted from labour laws. Further lack of control of the government would further deteriorate the safety and health situation at industries and other workplaces, the statement said.

Piler demanded the government increase the number of labour inspectors and enforce the labour laws effectively.

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2021

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