Around 97 per cent of the workers in the country are not part of any unions, while only two per cent of legislation related to workers’ welfare has been implemented, according to the statistics of the Pakistan Workers Federation (PWF). For the situation to improve, this trend has to change.
The solution to the present state of apathy for workers lies in resurgence of union activism, say worker rights activists.
PWF’s General Secretary Zahoor Ahmed Awan said that the state of workers in Pakistan is appalling, with a large majority of these being completely unaware of the fundamental rights of workers enshrined in the country’s constitution.
“Old union ties continue to weaken, while new unions are not allowed to emerge by corporate organisations, where labourers continue to toil under extreme conditions”, he added.
Of constitutional guarantees
The constitution contains a myriad of provisions, with regards to fundamental rights of workers as well as the maxims to be followed in formulation of policy for their welfare.
According to Article 11 of the Constitution, ‘all forms of slavery, forced labour and child labour’ are prohibited, while Article 17 provides a fundamental right to exercise ‘the freedom of association and the right to form unions’ for workers’.
Article 37(e) makes provision for ‘securing just and humane conditions of work’, highlighting that children and women should not be employed in vocations unsuitable to their age and gender.
Presently, around 396 labour unions are registered with the PWF across the country.
These work for protection of the rights of the working class. However, much still needs to be done.
“Workers are not given wages in time while there is no job security for a majority of these,” said Awan. “In principle, there should be a workers union in every organisation. Similarly, CR Shamsi, a member of the Pakistan Union of Journalists, said, “The working conditions are miserable in a majority of private organisations.”
“Workers are exploited by both the industrialists as well as the political leaders for achieving their ends,” he pointed out.
According to Workers Party Pakistan Central Information Secretary Aasim Sajjad, only three per cent of the workers are part of unions while the majority of the workforce is employed in the informal sector. “At the same time, majority of the existing trade and workers unions have become more of ‘pocket unions’, as they remain indifferent to advancing the cause of the workers,” he said. Sajjad also pointed out to the fact that although Pakistan is a part of many international conventions related to upholding rights of labourers, many of the clauses await implementation on part of the authorities.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2012.
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