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KARACHI, April 26: The civil society leaders, including Dr Kaiser Bengali, Karamat Ali, Nasir Mansoor and Riaz Abbasi, have said that all major political parties have given inadequate attention to labour and land reform issues in their election 2013 manifestos.

Addressing a press conference at the Karachi Press Club, they said that political parties had ignored workers and peasants while allocating party tickets for contesting polls.

There were only about 28 candidates contesting in the elections who declared themselves as belonging to the working class, they added.

They claimed that the political parties had tried to maintain the status quo and none of them were ready to make any change on the economic, social and political fronts or pledged to carry out the redistribution of resources and eliminate the concentration of wealth in the society.

“No political party speaks in terms of the rights to the people. All political parties have made tall claims for working for the poor, but they have not explicitly given a programme on how they plan to do it,” they said.

“Unemployment is the single most serious problem for the people, but no political party has said how they will tackle this problem. The horrendous factory fires in Karachi and Lahore have demonstrated to what extent workers’ rights and interests have been compromised, but no political party is prepared to say a word about it.”

They said that over the years governments had introduced contract labour system that had outsourced workers’ job security to third party, which was not accountable for its actions. Today there was no trade union in the banking and financial sector while workers had no right to bargain in other private corporations and industries like sugar, cement, cooking oil/ghee and other commercial organisations and industries, they added.

“Less than three per cent of the total workforce is unionised and the absence of trade unions has not only weakened the bargaining power of workers, it has also allowed a free-for-all exploitation and marginalisation of the working class,” the said.

They said trade unions had been suppressed for a long time particularly since 1980s and the situation had aggravated over the past five years.

“The Punjab Industrial Relations Act 2010 is a gross violation of the Article 17 (Right to Freedom of Association) of the Constitution. It denies the right to form unions to all organisations with fewer than 50 workers, which actually makes a majority of establishments in the province. Other provinces continued with the text of the exclusionary IRA 2008 which followed its earlier models in selective implementation of fundamental rights to freedom of association,” they said.

The civil society leaders said that the privatisation had been at the root of unemployment, underemployment and inequality in the country as had been seen in the cases of privatisations of the banking sector, the KESC, and the PTCL, that resulted in job cuts as well as marginalisation and exploitation of workers.

They added that it’s on record that foreign investors earned their revenue in rupees and remit their profits in dollars to their countries, thereby causing a loss of foreign exchange to the country.

“Take the example of the KESC; it gets huge subsidies from the government to maintain the planned profit level as part of a privatisation agreement with the government. Yet one sees very little investment in its production capacity to provide electricity to the people,” they said.

“This has resulted in massive losses to industries and further job cuts for the workers. Privatisation has relieved the state of its responsibility to care for the well-being of its citizens and caused much damage to the cause of the workers. Against this backdrop, our political parties’ eagerness to pursue privatisation as a solution for progress and development is deplorable,” they added.

They said that the subject of land reforms had also been completely ignored by the political parties.

“A majority of Pakistanis in rural and urban areas own no land while 93 per cent of farmers own less than four hectares of land. The low level of income in the agricultural sector is much less than the minimum wage set by the government. It fails to provide for decent living incorporating food, shelter and basic necessities. Malnutrition stands as a stark everyday reality since over half of the population is food insecure, with around 10 per cent battling with sever hunger. The agriculture labour force is employed on informal arrangements, exempting it from the application of labour laws. Yet, no political party has any programme for the right to hold assets for a population that comprises 45 per cent of the labour force.”

They said that the outgoing provincial assembly of Sindh had further eroded the rights of rural working class by incorporating controversial amendments to the Sindh Tenancy Act of 1950, making bonded labour legal.

No countermeasure of these anti-labour laws had been proposed by any political party, including those that were not part of the last government, the civil society leaders said.

They asked the political parties to clearly spell out their programmes regarding labourers and peasants.

“They must have a clear-cut policy on how they will tackle the unemployment problem in Pakistan. How will they address inequality without land distribution? What are their policies for the revival of the economy along the lines of inclusiveness and participation?”

The civil society leaders appealed to all to vote only for those who make a commitment to addressing the basic issues of workers.—PPI