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.