Labour Rights in Pakistan: Still a Far Cry

The International Labour Day, also known as May Day, is observed across the globe on May 1 every year to commemorate the intrepid and courageous Chicago labourers who sacrificed their lives in order to gain their rights.

On May 1, 1886, a number of workers were killed when they were demanding an 8-hour workday instead of 12-hour.The movement started at Haymarket in Chicago. It gradually gained strength and became a strong political movement to defeat the imperialist capitalism.

The unique feature of May Day is that it is, perhaps, the only anniversary that is commemorated all over the world without any difference of caste, creed, religion or race. It cuts across the prejudices of colour, nationality and ethnicity which are used by the ruling elites to drive a wedge in the unity of the proletariat. Hence the real message of May Day is that of proletarian internationalism. It is also the reaffirmation of the pledge for unity in struggle on a class basis against the system of exploitation and plunder that always favours the powerful.

The state of affairs in Pakistan, unfortunately, is not satisfactory. When we look at the labour rights and laws in Pakistan, it seems that we are at par with the international standards of labour rights but, in reality, the situation is quite flagitious and disturbing. All the political parties have been making tall claims about serving the labour but in practice, they have never done anything worth-mentioning.

Under the 1973 Constitution, labour is a ‘concurrent subject’ making it liable for implementation by both the federal and provincial governments. To ensure the labour their due rights, six labour policies have been announced by the governments since the creation of Pakistan. These were in 1955, 1959, 1969, 1972, 2002 and 2010. However, some analysts opine that the Labour Policy of 1972 was the most progressive, as it reformed the labour laws and set out new benchmarks including new administrative infrastructure to manage the workers’ welfare, viz Workers Welfare Fund Ordinance; Employees Old-Age Benefit Act; amended Industrial Relations Ordinance with enhanced protection of workers’ rights like imposing condition on the authority of employer to terminate workers job.

Minimum wages have been increased from time to time and on May 1, 2012, the then Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, announced an increase in minimum wages of labourers from Rs 7,000 to Rs 8000 and a 20 per cent increase in pensions. But unfortunately, this remained only a political gimmick and no solid steps were taken to implement it.

On the one hand even most of the corrupt CEOs of the state enterprises strongly resist the unionisation of their employees and the managements resort to intimidation, dismissal and blacklisting against the real unions simultaneously patronising the ‘Pocket Unions’ to achieve their personal objectives; what to say about private enterprises. On the other hand, poverty is continuously rising which further worsens the living conditions of the workers class. It is of paramount necessity that the human rights are upheld and the violations, wherever they occur, be denounced.

There is another harsh fact that needs to be dealt with urgently and that is the menace of child labour. Children are considered the future of a nation. They must be educated and guided to play their positive role in realising the dream of a brighter future.

Like all developing or underdeveloped countries, children in Pakistan also join their parents in work in the fields or in the marketplace as soon as they get old enough to perform simple tasks. In such unhealthy environment, children suffer from various diseases. But, due to low literacy level and poverty, parents are forced to send their children to work and earn some money. Preventing children from enjoying their childhood, hampering their development and causing lifelong physical or psychological damage is not only a detriment to families but also to communities and to society as well. For this, the government should provide free education to the children.

It can only be prayed that the party which comes into power should keep its promises and fulfil them at the earliest so that the labour community is satisfied. This is the only panacea to enhance production that will, in turn, boost the economic growth of the country.

Now, when General Elections are in the offing, all the political parties are presenting their manifestos to woo the labour-class as they constitute the majority of voters. Let us have a look at what political parties have in their bags for the labour of Pakistan.


Labour Reforms
PTI intends to rationalize, simplify, and enforce labour laws to ensure:
All rights associated with trade union activities;
The implementation of the already guaranteed profit sharing system;
The repeal of repressive labour laws, and amendments in the trade unions act and other laws to bring these in line with provisions of the Convention of the International Labour Organization to which Pakistan is a signatory;
The extension of the scope of labour laws to include labour hired by contractors under the “Thekedari system” so as to protect their rights to bargaining;
The reorganization of existing social security institutions to eliminate corruption and ensure that the funds paid by employers to the Employees Old-age Benefit Institution and other social security institutions reach the employees;
The provision of job security to workers and insurance and social security/unemployment cover, and strengthening of ‘safety net’ in consultation with economic experts and Trade Unions;
Representation for working classes in the National and Provincial Assemblies and local bodies; and
Improved vocational training opportunities for labour to raise their technical skills, productivity and incomes.

The rights of labourers shall be protected. PML(N) will develop a skilled labour force to meet the challenges of a growing economy. Labour laws will be revised to ensure justice to all parties and to improve working relations and overall growth.
‘Tripartite National and Provincial Productivity Council’ and ‘National Health & Safety Council’ will be set up to raise and develop ‘productivity’ and ‘preventive safer culture’ in the country through joint efforts of the Government, Employer and Workers.
Ensuring ‘Decent Work’ for the national work force by ensuring fair wage and safe working condition to prevent accidents and occupational diseases at work place and provision of social protection.

Labour too will be given a greater share in public enterprise through the BESOS programme and the minimum wage will go up to 18,000 rupees per month. Labour representatives will get four seats in the National Assembly and two seats in each provincial assembly, through legislation.

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