May Day celebrations in Pakistan have been reduced, over the years, to no more than an annual ritual without the zeal and enthusiasm that had been the hallmark of the event in the recent past. Of course, rallies are staged by worker unions on the day and a number of conferences and seminars are also held not only to acknowledge the contribution of labour in the development of our country, but also to enlighten people about the problems being faced by them and their solutions. But that is that. The next day, it is back to the same old routine. The fate of labour in our country seems to have been handed over to the vagaries of the market. It is now the principle of supply and demand that is what is dictating our labour market currently. As such labour is often deprived of even minimum basic pay and minimum health cover and neither do they get enough to send their children to school.
A vast majority of labourers and daily-wage workers, including those who serve as domestic help, remain outside the field of labour laws, which means that workers have no job security, no medical coverage, no pension or provident fund, no limit on working hours and are paid no overtime. Besides, hundreds and thousands of children are also found either doing jobs meant for adults or are loitering on the streets begging. The menace of child labour has consigned a large portion of our future generation to a perpetual life below the poverty line. The power of labour legislation was devolved to the provinces under the 18th Amendment but the job that was to have been completed by June 2011, remains incomplete. Two of the money-generating legislations, the Companies Profits (Workers Participation) Act of 1968 and the Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Act of 1976 remain with the centre, which enables Islamabad to retain the funds generated under these legislations. It would be in the fitness of things as we celebrate May Day today, for the federal government to devolve these laws and also transfer these funds to the provinces in the interest of our workers.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2016.
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