While the Punjab government announced plans on Tuesday to raise the minimum wage for unskilled workers from Rs7,000 to Rs9,000 per month, labour rights activists demanded more effective mechanisms to provide rights to workers.
Brick kiln workers took out a rally in front of the Lahore Press Club to demand the end of bonded labour. They were joined by workers from Lahore, Kasur, Pakpattan, Faisalabad and Sheikhupura.
‘Raise too late’
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Syeda Ghulam Fatima, secretary general of the BLLF, said the Punjab government had set the brick kiln workers’ minimum wage to Rs517 per thousand bricks, the wage they had demanded in 2010. “The government decision has come two years late,” she said.
“Also, the social security cards and national identity cards issues remain outstanding,” she said.
Out of the 230,000 brick kiln workers at over 10,000 brick kilns in the province, none has been issued a social security card and more than 70 percent do not have national identity cards, Fatima said.
“It is impossible to address their problems until they are registered,” she said.
In addition to providing social security and identity cards to brick kiln workers, Fatima demanded that the government raise the minimum wage to Rs1,517 per thousand bricks.
Nothing for domestic workers:
While brick kiln workers benefit from some regulation, domestic workers are unable to turn to any official wage monitoring mechanism.
Umme Laila, executive director of HomeNet Pakistan, said her organisation had been working to secure rights for home-based workers, the largest section of the informal workforce.
She said the informal workforce, included domestic help, street vendors and home-based workers. “Lack of registration is the biggest hurdle to granting them rights and protections,” she said.
‘Count them, register them’:
She said that registration with the Labour Department entitles a person to legislated rights. According to HomeNet estimates, which Umme Laila claims have been validated by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, there are as many as 1, 275, 022 home-based urban workers in Punjab and 6,052,057 home-based rural workers.
She commended the Punjab government for finalising a policy for home-based workers, pending approval by the cabinet. She also asked the government to obtain accurate statistics on the working class.
“There is a dearth of credible data on workers,” she said. “It makes working for their rights more difficult.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2012.