Govt urged to announce `much-delayed` HBWs policy

LAHORE: Representatives of various civil society organisations have urged the Punjab government to announce the long-due Home Based Workers (HBWs) policy on the upcoming International Women’s Day on March 8.

“The HBWs policy has been finalised and awaiting approval of the Punjab Cabinet,” said HomeNet Pakistan Executive Director Ume Laila Azhar at a news conference at Lahore Press Club on Monday.

Flanked by representatives of other organisations, she said the Punjab government’s failure to fulfil its commitments in the Women’s Empowerment Package 2012 has not only compromised the interests of millions of HBWs in the province, but also made them helpless.

She said the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Home Work Convention, 1996 (No. 177); the Kathmandu Declaration of 2000 and the South Asian Regional Plan of Action for Home-based Workers, 2007 called for identification and recognition of home-based workers, their mainstreaming into national economies, formulation of national policies for them, their integration into national and regional markets and raising of their visibility, voices and concerns.

“HBWs contribute significantly to the national and global economies and are linked to the formal economy through value and supply chains and local markets. They are generally not incorporated into national data collection systems or into development agendas and programmes,” said Ume Laila.

She urged the Punjab government to approve the HBW policy and legislation without any further delay. It was imperative that the HBWs be covered under the social protection mechanisms and that the provincial government devised a strategy to make it possible, she stressed.

Labour Education Foundation Director Khalid Mehmood said the unjustifiable delay in approval of the HBW policy and its adoption was creating uneasiness among the HBWs and the organisations working for their rights.

He said even the labour policy, which had been finalised in April 2014, had not been implemented in the province. The government, he demanded, should not use delaying tactics and decide matters pertaining to workers on a priority basis.

Social activist and former MNA Mehnaz Rafi said it was high time the government came up with a legal framework for the protection of HBWs across Pakistan. She said though the Punjab government was coming up with a new Women’s Empowerment Package on the International Women’s Day, it had not yet fulfilled commitments it had made in the previous package announced in 2012.

Women Workers’ Union General Secretary Shaheena Kausar said HBWs should have rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining as per ILO Convention 87. It was the responsibility of the state to ensure HBWs’ participation in the formulation of different policies, their monitoring and implementation.

The Punjab government must promote collective bargaining and formal collective agreements with employers and/or with governments according to ILO Convention and ensure fair and minimum wages, she demanded.

Civil society demands speedy approval of provincial HBWs policy

Karachi: The civil society on Wednesday demanded from the Sindh government to hurry up the approval of home-based workers’ (HBWs) policy which lies pending before a committee formed to finalise a social protection framework for them.

Addressing the media at the Karachi Press Club, they urged the government to speed up the approval and announce the policy by International Women’s Day to be observed on March 8.

A representative of HomeNet Pakistan, Ume Laila Azhar, said home-based workers comprised a significant portion of the workforce but they were denied the basic rights of social benefits.

She said the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) home worker Convention, Kathmandu Declaration of 2000 and South-Asia’s regional plan of action for home-based workers all required recognition of such and including them in the mainstream workforce, and consequently the national economy.

She said the Sindh government should be proactive in approving and adopting the home-based workers’ policy and legislation, which were still under consideration.

Azhar lamented that despite the ILO convention and Kathmandu Declaration, most of the home-based workers remained unidentified, invisible, unrecognised, discriminated against, voiceless and were denied their rights as workers. She said such workers were an important source of employment, especially for economically and socially-disadvantaged women who formed most of the home-based workforce.

The chief of Pakistan Institute of Labour, Education and Research, Karamat Ali, said home-based work was a global phenomenon and existed in all sectors of employment, including industrial and service sectors.

He said home-based workers contributed significantly to the national and global economies and linked to it through value and supply chains in the local markets. He said their revenue was generally incorporated into national collection systems or into development agendas and programmes but their contribution remained invisible and unrecognised.

Ali appreciated the efforts of Sindh government in finalising the home-based workers policy but said the delay in its approval was causing uneasiness and raising grave questions about the government’s stance of being pro-poor. He called on the government to keep its promises and regularise the informal working sector and provide protection to it.

Dialogue: MPA invites reaction to statement on `women`s little hard work`

KARACHI: Kulsoom Chandio, a member of the Sindh assembly, thinks that men work harder than women. She kindled a sharp reaction when she let out the statement during a discussion on Sindh Home Based Workers Policy, 2014. HomeNet had organised the event on July 16 at Hotel Mehran.

“I went to visit my village in Dadu,” she said. “And when I saw the hari working so hard in the fields, I was convinced that men work harder than women.” A few men applauded her. However, National Trade Union Federation’s Nasir Mansoor could not take it.

“Women do much more than men,” he protested. “Not even a [religious party] supporter would give such a statement. It’s a shame that Benazir’s saathi could say something like that.”

HomeNet regional director Nuzhat Shirin Khan and labour department’s joint director Gulfam Nabi Memon jumped to Chandio’s rescue and changed the topic. Khan had earlier briefed the session about the policy. She played a few video clips, highlighting the plight of the home-based workers. A few women were in the video clips, sharing their tales.

“My back aches while making these bangles,” said another woman. “I must make 315 bangles in half an hour. My husband helps me in my job.”

One home-based worker, who must be not more than 14 years old, said that she dreamed of going to school. “But if I study then who will run the household chores?” she said. “After all, I’m the eldest sister and have to take care of the house.”

‘Unpaid family helper’ is what the home-based workers are currently known as, said Khan. She explained that they do not come under the definition of a worker because they work from their homes and are thus deprived of the rights that all other employees enjoy.

HomeNet is a non-governmental organisation that works in collaboration with the UN Women and ILO to introduce and implement legislation to ensure the protection of home-based workers. The purpose of the policy is to make sure that these workers are acknowledged as ‘workers’ and are guaranteed the rights to minimum wage, access to skill-enhancement training, social security benefits, right to form trade unions, and much more, said Memon.

According to Khan, as many as five district action committees (DACs) have been set up to organise the home-based workers and give them awareness of their rights. Currently, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Thatta, Sanghar and Nawabshah, have a DAC each. Home-based workers are given representation in these committees and are trained.

Memon said that a provincial policy has been formed and has been sent to the chief minister for approval. The CM now wants it to be presented as an act. “I assure you that before the end of Ramazan, we will present the act,” he said. “Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is the only party that has included home-based workers in its manifesto,” he said, beaming with pride.

“The contents of this policy draft are quite idealistic,” said planning department assistant chief Muhammad Saleem Jalbani. “It looks good on paper but has little practical application.”

Memon replied that the HomeNet team is working hard to ensure the implementation of the policy and an inspector from the labour department will be given this duty.

“It is my suggestion that you don’t hire an inspector from the labour department as we all know that the labour department does not do any work,” said Sikandar Sheikh.

“I worked from 9 to 5 today, still you are unsatisfied with the department?” retorted Memon sharply.

Apologising for her earlier statement, Chandio said that she truly recognises the hard work of women.

“A woman does an incredible job carrying a baby for 10 months,” she said. She was, however, unable to come up with any other great achievements of females.

Working women ignored in budget

LAHORE – Home based working women have been ignored in the provincial budget 2014-15. There was a need to announce a policy for working women who contribute to the national economy.

The speakers viewed this at a seminar on “Post Budget (2014-15) Review for Women Working” Tuesday at Hameed Nizami Press Institute of Pakistan. Dr Qais Aslam presided over the sitting while HNPIP Director Absar Abdul Ali was the moderator.

Ali threw light on the recent budget in the beginning of the seminar. Dr Qais Aslam said that the traditional capitalist economy was portrait of many ills including unemployment, inflation and difference between imports and exports. He said that 56 million working people of the country were the real backbone of economy. Talking on the condition of working people, he said, “They had been being ignored since long”.

Government institution least care about their working conditions or minimum wages, he said. To ensure implementation of minimum wages announcements, he said, it should be made mandatory on the factory owners to ensure ISO Certification. He said that there were many indirect taxes that kill the working class but the elite class is being exempted from taxes.

The middle man who had since long been exploiting the working class like farmers and home based workers, should be brought to justice. “Withoutaccountability there would be no implementation of law”, he held.

The other speakers including Maria Kaukab and Shumaila Malik also said that the working women had been badly ignored in the budget 2014-15. They were of the view, despite tall claims of the ruling government, the fate of the workers remain unchanged. They were of the view that like other workers working women should be given their due rights.

The government should take measures to ensure minimum wages announced in the budget, they stressed.

Provincial budget will create new issues: Civil Society

Budget blues: `Raise minimum wage and pensions`

LAHORE: “We demand that the provincial government raise the minimum wage to Rs20,000 and minimum pension from Rs3,600 to Rs10,000,” Hanif Ramay, the Muttahida Labour Federation (MLF) general secretary told The Express Tribune on Monday.

The budget session of the provincial assembly will start on June 13. The budget will be presented by Finance Minister Mian Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman.

Ramay asked rhetorically how a retired worker could make ends meet in Rs3,600. He said the government had set Rs3,600 as the minimum pension for retired workers in 2012, and had not raised it last year.

He urged the federal government to transfer the Employees’ Old Benefits Institution to the provinces so they could ensure social security for workers.

Ume Laila Azhar, executive director of HomeNet Pakistan, told The Express Tribune “The government should provide for informal sector workers… allocating special funds for them. The minimum wage fixed by the government does not apply to them as they are not recognised as labourers. This is unfortunate given that the informal sector employs 74 per cent of our labour force.”

Azhar demanded a 50 per cent raise in salaries and pensions of government employees, and an end to the forcible removal of government employees from Wapda. She said education should be provided free for workers’ children, lady health workers’ services should be regularised, and contract labour ended.

Bonded Labour Liberation Front general secretary Syeda Ghulam Fatima told The Express Tribune it was demanding that the government ensure the implementation of the rate of Rs740 per 1,000 bricks, set by the government, but not enforced over the past year.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf MPA Nausheen Hamid said “The government should raise the salaries, and pensions of government, semi-government, autonomous bodies’ and private sector workers by at least 30 per cent in view of the price hike.” Hamid said 80 per cent of the country’s salaried workers and labourers contributed total tax revenue, and a large majority of the country’s ruling elite, business tycoons, and industrialists evaded tax by exploiting legal loopholes.

“The PML-N government should deploy state machinery to recover $300 billion deposited in Swiss banks by Pakistan’s elite. It should be used to pay off World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans,” said Hamid.

She added that the upcoming budget should also allocate funds for social welfare schemes, including the provision of free education and employment opportunities for unemployed youth. Baba Jan Masih of the Bhatta Mazdoor Union said “They only pay us Rs250 per 1,000 bricks. Our contract states that we should get Rs550 per 1,000 bricks. I cannot run my household on what I get.” MPA Azma Zahid Bokhari told The Express Tribune said “The PML-N government is people-friendly. We are committed to the improvement of standards of living of the working class, but things cannot change overnight. We need more time.”

Bare minimum: The federal budget was not meant to favour workers

LAHORE: The federal budget 2014-15 favours capitalists and the elite… not labour or women, Rubina Jamil, president of the Pakistan Workers’ Confederation, told The Express Tribune on Wednesday.

Jamil said Finance Minister Ishaq Dar had claimed in his speech that privatisation of state-owned enterprises would generate employment opportunities. Jamil said privatisation was being undertaken on the International Monetary Fund diktat. She opposed the privatisation of PIA, OGDG, and Pakistan Steel Mills. Jamil said in view of the inflation, the Rs 2,000 raise in the minimum wage was inadequate. She said that the government should have consulted trade unions and established a privatisation committee taking all stakeholders on board, including workers.

Awami Workers Party general secretary Shazia Khan told The Express Tribune that there should be a formula for raising the minimum wage, rather than an arbitrary announcement. She said the government should raise minimum wage to offset inflation’s impact . “It is the responsibility of the government to ensure implementation.

An announcement without implementation amounts to deception,” Khan said. She said that the Rs 10,000 minimum wage announced last year had not been universally implemented. She also said that those in the corridors of power should try balancing a household in Rs 12,000. No family can make ends meet in Rs 12,000, said Khan. We had demanded a Rs 20,000 minimum wage, Women Workers’ Union general secretary Shaheena Kausar told The Express Tribune. She said no relief had been announced for women workers who were more vulnerable than men. Ume Laila Azhar, executive director of HomeNet Pakistan, said I am extremely disappointed by the budget, which again failed to incorporate the informal sector that employs 74 per cent of our labour force.

They play a critical role in the countrys economy, but are undergoing the worst kind of exploitation as they are not protected by any law. The minimum wage set by the government does not apply to them as they are not recognised as labourers.She said the budget was meant to facilitate business tycoons and the elite. Muttahida Labour Federation general secretary Hanif Ramay said the least the government could do was to ensure that the minimum wage was implemented.

Muhammad Boota, a 45-year-old worker, told The Express Tribune that he had to feed five children and his wife, and would not be able to make the ends meet in Rs12,000 a month. Akbar Ali, another labourer, told The Express Tribune Two of my children are not going to school from October. It will be difficult to meet the basic needs of my family in Rs 12,000. I was previously getting Rs 8,000 when the minimum wage was Rs 10,000.”

MNA Shaista Pervaiz Malik said We are with the workers and understand their problems, and have drafted the best possible budget given the available. We have committed to fulfill promises made to workers before the completion of our term.

Informal sector`s issues

Legislation for women workers demanded

LAHORE: FAVOURABLE legislation for women workers of Punjab is the need of the hour and Government of Punjab is more than willing to achieve desired results in this regard.

These views were expressed in a meeting on Thursday organised by HomeNet Pakistan with the Women Caucus Working Council comprising women parliamentarians in the Punjab Assembly, civil society organisations and representatives of trade unions. Punjab Labour Policy provides space for women workers in formal sector and women workers in vulnerable informal sectors are also under active consideration, said Ume Laila Azhar, HomeNet Pakistan executive director. She said recognition of informal sector workers as a workforce was important as they were contributing significantly to economy and GDP of Pakistan. Azhar said workers in the informal sector needed to be linked with economic development framework of the province and the government should set up mechanisms for research, data collection, timeline surveys and their own provincial census. Various civil society and labour representatives called for policies which would provide social safety net to workers in the informal sector, a provision to register these workers especially women, ensures minimum wage rates, decent working conditions, and safeguards against sexual harassment.

Uzma Bukhari, PML-N MPA, said the Punjab government was coming with a labour policy on May 1 which would take care of the issues raised at the event. In case some issues remain unaddressed, the women caucus will strive to get them resolved without delay. Talking to audience, she said women MPAs in the Punjab Assembly had formed this caucus and prepared an agenda for full year. All the women members are working for women’s rights regardless of their political affiliations, she added. Faiza Malik, Dr Nosheen Hamid, Najma Butt, Hina Pervaiz Butt and other MPAs also spoke.

Fauzia Waqar, Chairperson, Punjab Commission on Status of Women Affairs (PCSW), also addressed the participants and sought their help in identifying violations of laws that protected rights of women.

The participants also discussed the likely agenda of the three-day South Asia Labour Conference which would begin in Lahore on April 24. The conference aims to strengthen cooperation among the SAARC countries, identify common gaps in labour market governance, compliance with international labour standards and labour productivity in South Asia.

Recommendations for labour policy

LAHORE: The provincial women’s caucus met with experts and activists on Wednesday to discuss recommendations for the provincial labour policy expected to be passed soon by the assembly.

Homenet General-Secretary Umme Laila said the South Asian Labour Conference was about to be hosted by Punjab this year where 150 dignitaries and Saarc delegations would be present. As many issues had been ongoing for years, it was important to know how the new policy would deal with them.

Pakistan Workers’ Federation Chaudhry Yaqoob said though drafts were perfect at policy level, they needed a lot more work in terms of implementation and legislation.

“Our concerns revolve around the fact that only about three to five percent of labour is called organised, and that workers on contract are not regularised though 90 days of working automatically means a worker is a permanent employee,” he said.

He said workers were not given appointment letters which made it next to impossible for them to get old age benefits and social security.

He said if this was the status of workers in general, women workers’ condition was much worse.

“About 80 percent of workers are in the informal sector,” he said, adding that “banning trade unions, which were dominant at one time, means civil society has weakened because trade unions were a form of resistance and ensured deep rooted democracy.”

He said he was not against investment but wanted the labour policy to recognise labourers’ and workers’ due rights. Institutions must not be overstaffed so that there are no layoffs and no need for privatisation.

He suggested one union per sector such as one trade union for all hotel employees in the province, and one union for all rickshaw drivers, not several small unions working separately.

He said that labour inspection which was stopped in the PML-Q government had started again but needed to be more independent and vigilant so that there was compliance of labour laws, including health and safety, working conditions, and issues such as factories not located in residential areas which presented a danger of fire.

Mehnaz Rafi demanded a woman-oriented labour policy and prompted the women’s caucus to look beyond party lines.

Ghulam Fatima spoke about the pains of brick kiln workers, especially women, who did not receive payment, social security cards, freedom to leave work, a dangerous and harrowing workplace, and no health benefits. She said minimum wages they received were usually less than even Rs400.Labour Education Foundation Khalid Mehmood said he feared the labour policy to be merely superficial because had there been political will, the issues at hand would have been resolved earlier.

He emphasised the fact that ILO conventions regarding home-based workers and domestic workers were still not ratified in Pakistan.

Other recommendations included involvement of women as office bearers in unions on plant level, transfer of pay by banks to ensure minimum wages, the implementation of section 35 of the Factories Act that women must not work after sunset in the industries, the registration of workers, recognition of lady health workers as workers under the labour policy, provision of utility cards to workers and issuing labour laws in Urdu.