THE Industrial Relations Ordinance (IRO), 1969, is meant “to amend and consolidate the law relating to the formation of trade unions, the regulation of relations between employers and workmen and the avoidance and settlements of any differences or disputes arising between them”. Earlier, the Industrial Relations Act, 1946, had a similar objective but specifically mentioned the establishing of a mechanism for regulating remuneration and conditions of employment. These are now settled through the bargaining process between the employer and Collective Bargaining Agent union under IRO 1969. Besides, there was the Industrial Relations Disputes Act, 1947, which provided for the settlement of any differences or disputes between the employer and CBA union.
The 1960s is seen as the decade of industrial progress but with a few exceptions, labour union activity remained dormant till around 1969. Retired Air Marshal Nur Khan, a cabinet minister under President Yahya Khan, had ‘labour’ as one of his portfolios. He paid special attention to recognising the rights of labour unions and their federations. He was instrumental in promulgating IRO 1969, which contained wisely drafted provisions for congenial industrial relations.
At the same time, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was also active in his election campaigning, promising to ameliorate the lot of peasants and labour. After coming to power, his PPP government introduced, through IRO 1969, the three new forums of shop stewards, management committee and the joint management board (JMB).
Shop stewards are “a link between the workers and the employer, [and] assist in the improvement of arrangements for the physical working conditions and production work” in the area they represent. They also help workers settle their problems.
Labour union activity remained dormant till around the late 1960s.
In the management committee, at least one workers’ representative is to be nominated by the CBA union to participate to the extent of 50 per cent in the management of the factory. Besides others, the management cannot take any decision without the advice in writing of the workers’ representative in the following matters: “framing of service rules and policy about promotion and discipline of workers”; “regulation of daily working hours and breaks”; and “matters relating to the order and conduct of workers within the factory”, etc.
The JMB is the top forum represented by the directors and senior managers from the management. Workers’ representation is 30pc and the board has look after “improvement in productivity”, “laying down the principles of remuneration” and “the provision of minimum facilities” to contract workers, etc.
The first PPP government had taken the idea of these forums from the Scandinavian countries, where workers’ participation in management is an important element of industrial democracy. It is a system where employees have a say in the management’s decisions. The Scandinavian countries have been maintaining a near 100pc literacy rate for long. This rate among Pakistan’s industrial workers, labouring under the employers’ strict control, has been less than 50pc. Most employers would not allow trade union activities in their establishments.
When the CBA unions got these rights and liberties in 1972 through labour laws, they thought themselves the new owners of the factories and led the workers they represented through turmoil and violence. Functions of the management committee and JMB overlapped with the CBA union’s domain of collective bargaining with the employer. Hence union leaders were not inclined to part with their powers and nominate their representatives to these two forums, which remained inoperational since the beginning.
Being a law-abiding organisation, an American company in Daharki, where I had worked in the late 1970s, formed the management committee and JMB. On persuasion, the CBA union nominated its workers’ representative to the two forums. When we wanted the representative to agree to and sign the notification relating to revised Ramzan work timings, which were followed every year, he went into hiding. Ultimately, he was traced and we managed to get his signature just a day before Ramazan.
The two forums, which have not functioned in any organisation for more than 50 years, despite the sincere efforts of some, should have been taken out from the law by the government a long time back. Meanwhile, the most useful forum of Works Council has been made complicated and unwieldy with the inclusion of the redundant functions of the management committee and JMB in the existing Industrial Relations Act of all the provinces. The respective provinces should take them out from the law in order to restore the effectiveness of the Works Council.
The writer is a consultant in human resources at the Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi.
Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2023