The government must calculate the cost of living in Pakistan and ensure that workers get a wage that provides for their basic needs. The government must enable a dignified life for workers, free of debts, bondage and violence. The government must also ensure compliance of international conventions associated with the GSP Plus in order to retain the status.
These demands were made by participants of a rally organised to mark International Labour Day on Saturday.
The rally was organised by the Association of Women for Awareness and Motivation (AWAM), Peace and Human Development (PHD-Pak), Awami Workers Party (AWP), Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM) and Bhatta Mazdoor Union (BMU).
Scores of workers participated in the rally. The protesters criticised the government’s minimum wage policy. They said the annual increment of Rs1,000 did not cover the cost of living increase.
Holding placards and banners, they chanted slogans against low wages, inflation and load shedding. The protesters urged the government to take tangible steps for protection of workers’ rights.
Speaking on the occasion, AWAM director Nazia Sardar said, “Women are exploited in the informal sector. The government must ratify ILO conventions protecting rights of home-based workers (ILO C-177) and domestic workers (ILO C-189) and extend social and legal protection to workers in the informal sector.”
Shazia George, a member of the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), said, “Domestic workers are not covered under labour laws. Often, they are subjected to violence and abuse, but these injustices are neglected. Exploitation of women workers is not addressed. The government should to enact legislation to protect their rights.”
Naseem Anthony, an activist, said, “A living wage differs from the minimum wage. The minimum wage today fails to meet requirements of workers as it does not take into account the cost of living. Poverty and low pay are closely associated with social disadvantage including poor health, substandard housing and personal debt and street crime.”
“Pakistan’s working class is among the world’s most underpaid and overworked groups. Poor enforcement of labour laws has put them in this position.”
Peace and Human Development (PHD-Pak) director Suneel Malik said, “A living wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to afford basic amenities to maintain a decent standard of living. It makes food, clothing, utilities, education, healthcare and transport accessible to workers.”
Therefore, the government must make the minimum wage a living wage for all workers by taking account of real living costs in Pakistan, for allowing them to lead a dignified life, ” he said.
Arif Ayaz, another activist, said, “Governments are not strong enough to effectively enforce labour laws in letter and spirit. That is why labour laws and policies are violated with impunity.”
Asghar Shaheen, a labour rights activist, said, “Most employers have not registered their workers with the Employees Old-age Benefits Institution (EOBI), and Employees Social Security Institutions (ESSI). The government must ensure that workers enjoy employment benefits.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2016.