'Poverty plagues home-based workers as the informal economic sector witnesses expansion'

Speakers call for legal recognition of and provision of rights to home-based workers, particularly women

​ Our Correspondent December 27, 2019

KARACHI: In spite of the noticeable growth observed in the number of home-based workers in Pakistan every year, they unfortunately continue to be gripped by poverty, lamented speakers during a press conference held by the Home-based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) at Karachi Press Club on Thursday.

The press conference was held to mark the completion of ten years of struggle of HBWWF. Speakers highlighted that while working from home was being encouraged as it resulted in higher profit margins, little improvement was witnessed in the economic conditions of home-based workers. They told media persons that a growth by roughly five per cent was observed in the number of home-based workers in Pakistan every year, yet they remained the poorest of the poor.

Walking down memory lane, they recalled that ten years ago, on December 30, 2009, HBWWF, was established as the first representative body of home-based women workers in the country. Since then, it had gone through a long period of struggle and had finally succeeded in getting closer to attaining legal recognition for over five million home-based workers in Sindh, they said.

Sindh is the first province in South Asia that legislated on home-based workers, passing the Sindh Home-based Workers Act, 2018 on May 9, 2018, they said, adding that a precedent was set by the lawmakers in the province. The speakers further elaborated that the act was in the final stages of completion and once passed, would lead to the province's home-based workers getting their due rights and the segment being formally recognised by the law. This means that they will be protected under labour laws, they explained.

The speakers expressed their pleasure over this development, stating that home-based workers, particularly women among them, were now legally recognised and actively contributing to pro-democracy campaigns, but at the same time they pointed towards the brewing discontent among the working class segment over delays in the implementation of the act. It has been over a year and the act has not been enforced, they decried.

Further shedding light on the plight of home-based workers, they estimated the number of home-based workers in Pakistan to be around 12 million, growing by five per cent every year, whose crucial role in developing the national economy remained to be recognised. They are still deprived of their rights and social security privileges granted under labour laws, they said.

To add to it, they are at the lowest tier of the pyramid in terms of wages, the speakers said, adding that women home-based workers were most exploited in this regard, being paid even lesser than their male counterparts.

Citing a report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), they said that it pointed towards a rise in the gender pay gap and violence on the basis of gender. According to the report, women are paid 34% less as compared to male workers for the same task, they provided details. The speakers quoted the Global Wage Report for the year 2018-19, released by ILO, saying that 90 per cent of the lowest paid workers in Pakistan were women. Sounding alarm bells over the statistic, they said that the report also warned of taken immediate corrective measures, portending that otherwise it would likely take 100 years to bring wage parity and 200 years to bring gender equality in the country.

The speakers lamented the ignorance to which the home-based women workers are subjected. They said that women working in the textile sector, the backbone of the national economy, from cotton pickers to those employed at factories, were being treated worse than slaves. This is against the laws and international standards but the government, international institutions and multinational corporations continue to ignore their plight, they criticised.

Home-based workers across the globe have been raising voice against these atrocities for years, the speakers said, adding that it was due to their long, hard struggle that a law was formulated in Germany to make multinational companies give home-based workers their due rights and a debate was sparked in the European Parliament for legislating along similar lines.

They slammed the government for not working towards giving home-based workers their due rights. What the rulers fail to understand is that economic growth is not possible in the absence of social justice, the speakers said. They pointed out that while the government has already ratified the ILO convention 36 and dialogue has been initiated over shaping a Pakistan Accord similar to the Bangladesh Accord, home-based workers being given their due rights remained a distant dream. To add to their misery, price hikes have further made their survival difficult, they said.

The speakers demanded of the Sindh government to implement the Sindh Home-based Workers Act and take measures for providing home-based workers social security and registering them with the Employees Old Age Benefits Institution.

Concluding the press conference, the speakers announced that an event will be held at the Arts Council in Karachi on December 30, at 3pm, to commemorate the ten years of struggle of home-based workers. Women home-based workers from across Pakistan will partake in the event and highlight the challenges and issue face by them. Besides, a documentary screening is on the agenda as well as the distribution of Comrade Shanta awards among home-based workers, in recognition of their struggle.

The speakers included Zehra Khan from Karachi Home Based Women Workers Federation, Saira Feroze from Karachi United Home Based Garments Workers Union, Shakeela Khan and Jameela Abdul Latif from Hyderabad Home Based Women Bangle Workers Union, Shabnam Azam from Gadap Home Based Women Workers Federation, Zahida Mukhtar and Aneela Ramzan from New Karachi United Home Based Garment Workers Union, among others.

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