Sindh govt urged to approve home-based workers policy

KARACHI, Nov 6: Civil society organisations and trade unions on Wednesday asked the government to approve the policy draft for home-based workers (HBWs), lying with the Sindh cabinet for the past two-and-a-half-months.

Executive director of HomeNet Pakistan Ume Laila Azhar, regional coordinator of HomeNet Pakistan Nuzhat Shirin and others said this while addressing a press conference at the Karachi Press Club.

`Pakistan is now well aware of the fact that the burden of poverty falls more heavily on women of households. Women working in houses to earn money are HBWs,` they said.

Ms Shirin said that the HomeNet along with its member organisations was striving for the recognition of HBWs in Pakistan and advocating for a policy and legislation for them.

Ms Azhar said that the government had shown commitment to redress injustices by taking the initiative to finalise the provincial policy on the HBWs, Sindh Policy for the HBWs, to recognise them as `workers` and extend social protection to the `invisible workers` of Pakistan who were silent contributors to the gross domes-tic product of the country.

She said that 65 per cent of HBWs in Pakistan approximately 12 million were unrecognised as them were not considered workers under the existing labour definitions in the country.

`They need to be declared workers and need to be counted; need to be protected and promoted by progressive legislation and social protection policies,` she said.

`They need to be honoured for the silent contribution and for the support they are providing to the economy at this critical juncture,` she added.

She also applauded the efforts of the Sindh labour department in finalising the provincial policy for HBWs.

`The policy provides a broader framework for protection to HBWs by registering them as workers, linking them with social security, Employees` Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI), easy credit schemes, vocational and skill training opportunities and provides a very progressive implementation framework for upgrading livelihoods of homebased workers of Sindh.

Ms Rubina of the Aurat Foundation Karachi highlighted vulnerabilities faced by HBWs in Sindh and called for approval of the policy for HBWs and theirregistration as workers.

Nasir Mansoor of the NTUF said that minimum wage was the right of every worker.

`The determination of the minimum wage is crucial for home-based workers,` said Mr Nasir while calling upon the government to hold consultative processes with workers federations to finalise the minimum wages for the HBWs of Sindh.

He assured full support of workers federation in supporting the home-based workers cause.

Mr Nayyar of Piler said the issue of HBWs should be included in all labour agendas and frameworks.

`HBWs are the major part of the informal sector and this sector in Pakistan is the backbone of economy and yet they areunrecognisedandunorganised,` he added.

`The need of the hour is that HBWs policy is put in place and the Sindh government take affirmative and concrete steps for assuring its implementation,` he said.

He added that it was responsibility of all workers organisations, national trade unions, federations and confederations to join hands in solidarity with home-based workers in building pressure on the government of Sindh to timely approve this policy.Zehra Khan from HBWs Federation said that HBWs were waiting for the policy approval and looking forwards to its successful implementation at all levels.

The speakers said that immediate approval and implementation of the HBWs policy would have direct effect on community women and it would bring a change to their lives.

They called upon the Sindh government to recognise the home-based workers as `workers`.

They also called for prioritising the adoption of the provincial policy on HBWs and ensuring its proper implementation so as to guarantee women access to social security benefits, and, take measures to ensure that the correspondent policy was implemented at all levels across the province.

They urged the government to develop and adopt legislative frameworks around HBWs needs providing them protection and promoting their skills for the national and international markets.

They also called for ratifying ILO Convention No 177 on home-based work and including the HBWs category as a category of `work` in labour statistics and labour force surveys.

Dialogue on Homebased Workers Rights

Informal exploitation

The fire incidence of factory in Baldia Town Karachi has exposed negligence and lack of sufficient control by the government machinery.It is reported by the media that factory owners violated multiple regulations. The majority of the workers were working on a third-party contract and none of them had an appointment letter. No worker was registered with the Employees Old-age Benefit Institute (EOBI) and the Worker Welfare Board/Fund.On the other hand, the grants announced by the Federal and Provincial governments will reach to the families through a slow and traumatic processes.It is a normal practice in Pakistan that factories hire a large number of employees on ad-hoc basis for the only reason of avoiding appropriate remuneration package and social security benefits for which they are legally bound to provide their regular employees. It clearly indicates that the government, formal businesses and workers have no sensitivity about the corporate social responsibility that encourages the acknowledgement of workers as a key stakeholder.Unfortunately, the situation is worsening as formal businesses have penetrated in the Informal Economy to acquire labour on exploitative rates. During a research assignment, I had an opportunity to meet with selected women respondents who were working for factories as home-based workers and connected through a chain of middlemen. With little or no education, none of those women had realisation of the need of setting terms and conditions of their work or appropriately negotiate their compensation.In most cases, income was recorded as less than Rs50 per day which has no meaningful contribution for an average family size of 7.5 per household. Due to lack of policy, an estimated 5 million such women workers are deprived from proper wages and social security benefits.Despite the presence of several labour laws, workers of informal economy sector are not covered by any labour legislation or administration due to negligence or the lack of interest of the concerned authorities.The role of trade unions and civil society institutions that claim to work for the protection of workers’ rights have not been satisfactory specifically for the workers associated with informal economy. In order to take meaningful steps, a comprehensive research is required to thoroughly study the rapidly expanding Informal Economy Sector and its related aspects with formal economy and exploitative prospects on workers.HomeNet Pakistan, an organization working to promote and safeguard the rights of women home-based workers has conducted a preliminary study on the issues of workers associated with Informal Economy Sector in Lahore city that included the groups representing factory workers, street vendors, sanitary workers, domestic workers, waste pickers, home-based workers, lady health workers etc. The discussions were important to learn from the people directly affected.The common issues were irregular and low wages, lack of recognition as worker in labour policy and deprivation from the health care and other social benefits. The other important issues to be considered by policy makers are being highlighted below.The privatization without effective controls by the government is seen as threatening the workers’ rights and depriving them from the social benefits. A sanitary worker said that due to the privatization of Solid Waste Management Department by the Government of Punjab, the sanitary workers have been deprived from the minimum wage and benefits for which he was entitled to previously as regular employee.Home-based workers have reported energy crisis as one of the major issue which has reduced their production or the cost of the production due to using alternate energy sources. They have less work opportunities in recent years.The women domestic workers are facing a major issue of harassment for which they have no mechanism to acquire appropriate support as it also deprives them from the work opportunity. They are often blamed of theft and are tortured during investigation by the family members and police, etc.Most of the waste pickers belong to nomadic people living in temporary shelters. For this reason, it is almost impossible for them to acquire CNIC which is the basic requirement to claims basic rights and access social services.The brick kiln workers are the most neglected group as they are engaged in forced labour for ages. They are not even sensitized on their exploitation and the issue of their basic rights. In most of the cases, due to non-repayment of the loans provided by their employers, it becomes the basic reason of their being caught in bounded labour or slavery for years.In order to address the issues, the re-orientation of trade unions and the civil society institutions on labour laws as well as on their effective role in carrying out advocacy for the protection of workers’ rights can be a step to start with. It may help establish an accountability mechanism in both public and private sector simultaneously.The government and funding agencies should also support some pilot initiatives through civil society organizations to form and institutionalise such forums which may help enhance the capacities of the informal workers as well as their access to social services. For example, mobilising and organizing informal workers to be registered as cooperative body. It will facilitate the workers to increase quality production, marketing and access the social services and benefits including Employee Old-Age Benefits, Workers’ Welfare Fund, etc.Finally, it is appealed to the concerned officials of the government that lessons learned from the Karachi’s factory fire incidence should not be overlooked and concrete corrective measures should be taken in favour of the social security and protection of the workers both in formal and informal sector.

`Home-based workers rights priority`

LAHORE: Punjab Labour Minister Raja Ashfaq Sarwar has said that the Home-based workers are priority of the Punjab government as they are the marginalised among the labour force and they are also contributing in our economy.

He stressed that it is our priority to end the exploitation of these workers and they feel protected.

HomeNet Pakistan organised an orientation meeting for Punjab Labour Minister on policy and legislation for Home-based workers.

The meeting was chaired by Punjab Labour Minister. Objective of the orientation meeting was to brief minister regarding the situation of Home-based workers, and previous legislation and govt commitments on the policy process for Home-based workers. Executive Director HomeNet Pakistan Ume Laila Azhar briefed the minister regarding the process in Punjab. She hoped that the present govt will fulfill the previous commitment regarding the Home-based workers policy legislation.

Director Labour Syed Hasnat Javed briefed the minister on current policy status and process. Mohsin Abbas from Law Department presented the legislation process regarding the Home-based Workers Act 2013.

Concluding the meeting, the minister said the major challenge regarding the issue is the invisibility of their contractor, and undefined working hours. He ensured that soon the law regarding Home-based workers will present in the Assembly and Labour Ministry will also invite the HomeNet Pakistan so that we can approve with more clarity and can identify gaps in the legislation process.

Mainstreaming home-based workers

Pakistan’s home-based workers will finally have access to labour laws dealing with union formation, social security and old-age benefit. Years of deliberations and meetings have now reached a point where the provincial governments of Punjab and Sindh have finalised a policy on home-based workers. At the national level, the policy on home-based workers was finalised in 2011 but after the 18th amendment, it could not get the cabinet’s approval.

A home-based worker is someone who works within the home boundaries or at other premises of their choice, except the premises of an employer or contractor’s workplace; who works at home for remuneration or monetary returns and who is self-employed or does piece-rate, own-account or contract work, which results in a product or service as specified by the employer/contractor.

This particular definition of a home-based worker excludes a person with the status of an employee, who occasionally performs their work at home in addition to their usual workplace. It also excludes a home-based worker who enjoys a certain degree of autonomy to undertake an economic activity, i.e. self-employed.

Most importantly, domestic workers are also not home-based workers. Furthermore, a person who is working in agriculture, livestock, forestry and fisheries is also outside the purview of home-based workers.

The goals of the earlier (draft) national and provincial policies on home-based workers include recognising and accepting the workers through legislative and administrative actions; according them legal equality and focusing on their needs, concerns and demands through an institutional approach of gender mainstreaming at all levels.

Both the policies inform the federal and provincial governments’ objectives in addressing the concerns of these workers on a priority basis. And the policies also reaffirm their commitment to bring laws and regulations concerning the home-based workers in conformity with the constitutional provisions and relevant international labour standards.

The constitutional provisions, for example, are equality and non-discrimination [article 25 (one and two)]; elimination of exploitation [article three]; women empowerment [article 25 (three), article 34 and article 37 (e)]; social and economic well-being of the people [article 37 (a) and 39 (b and d)] and freedom of association [article 17].

The relevant international conventions that have been noted are the international covenant on social, economic and cultural rights; convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women; child rights’ convention and ILO conventions 100 and 111 on non-discrimination and equality.

The key policy measures aimed at mainstreaming the home-based workers comprise: definition and equality of legal status; equality of treatment and wages; skills training and enhancement; access to credit, land ownership and assets, and marketing channels and linkages and social protection for the home-based workers.

The policy on home-based workers seeks to devise a mechanism for the mandatory and free registration of all workers through a tier system at the federal, provincial, district, tehsil/taluka and union council levels. The details of this mechanism are to be worked out in consultation with all the relevant ministries and provincial departments.

The policy envisages preparing provincial action plans, which will be implemented by a committee. In the case of Punjab, a Policy Steering and Coordination Committee is going to be established. This committee will have the authority to conduct the required monitoring of the functions of various stakeholders. The goal of the policy is to recognise and accept home-based workers; accord legal equality to them and focus on their needs, concerns and demands.

The key issue, however, is whether the policy will be implemented in letter and spirit. There are numerous areas that require careful examination, such as union formation, labour inspection, registration, access to social protection, occupational safety and health and application of minimum wage. In the post-18th amendment situation, the provinces have promulgated their own industrial relations laws (IRLs). A major characteristic of the IRL is lack of uniformity. In the case of Punjab, for example, the right to unionise is limited to workers belonging to establishments having 50 and more employees.

Thus, a majority of the working women and men are being bypassed in terms of exercising their right to bargain collectively, settle disputes, etc.

The policy stipulates ‘labour inspection’ that will have a multi-tiered inspection mechanism. However, there are limitations with regard to the labour inspection imposed by the provincial governments of Punjab and Sindh since 1993. Only recently have labour inspections been allowed. Furthermore, the existing labour inspection machinery is neither capable nor does it have the capacity to extend its outreach to the widely scattered population of the home-based workers.

The policy plans to make compulsory the registration of all home-based workers and provide access to social protection benefits. Currently, the employees’ old-age benefit institution and employees’ social security institutions have been able to register a small proportion of the workers of the formal sector. Their total coverage does not exceed six million. How would they reach the millions who are home-based and spread across the country? Furthermore, how would they determine the ‘employer’ for the purpose of getting contribution?

What is the way forward? First, appoint a high-powered task force in consultation with the provincial governments and with the participation of stakeholders and experts to look into matters with regard to labour laws and administration in the wake of the 18th amendment; ensure conformity of labour laws to global standards and obligations; develop a coordinating mechanism as well as consensus; tailor the policy laws dealing with protecting and promoting the rights of home-based workers and finalise a modality of labour inspection machinery that incorporates them.

Second, convene a national tripartite labour conference and also in all the provinces with a well-prepared agenda to follow up recommendations. Lastly, appoint a truly representative high-powered commission on mainstreaming the informal economy.