Spare a thought for agricultural workers who have spent almost five years waiting for the Sindh government to implement the province’s industrial relations law. Their patience has been as remarkable as the lack of political will on the part of the government. The legislation originally crafted in March 2013 as the Sindh Industrial Relations Act (Sira) legally recognised peasants for the first time as farm workers and as such recommended that they be granted access to health insurance, pension and other benefits. Their status will remain unchanged and no different from workers on daily wage until the legislation is widely enforced in the province.
The 18th constitutional amendment has devolved power from the centre to the provinces and Sindh as a result found itself in a position to create history through the landmark industrial relations legislation — which accepted the long-standing demand of the federation and unions to recognise peasants and fishermen as workers. And though the Sindh Assembly adopted the law after a tripartite consultation, the province’s agricultural workers have not profited in any way. The main obstacle seems to be the current impasse between the provincial government and the labour ministry on how to accept the rights of peasants and fishermen, in particular, to unionise, collectively bargain, demand social security, pension, grants and welfare schemes.
Until those rights are granted, workers will continue to languish in dangerously inadequate and inhuman conditions. Their work environments are highly toxic and expose them to a number of health and safety issues. Too often small farmers and peasants are at the mercy of feudal-minded landlords and market middlemen who operate like mafias and deprive them of their rightful share. Representatives of workers should be consulted in tripartite committee meetings so that they can benefit from social security schemes.
Labour courts will help their cause. But most of all agricultural workers need an equitable distribution of water. These measures are crucial if we want to avoid the colossal agriculture crisis that looms in case the law is not enforced soon enough.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2018.
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