The plight of female workers

Israr Ayoubi July 09, 2024
The author has served EOBI for 40 years and is currently the Director of Social Safety Net, Pakistan


About 20% of the country’s total labour force consists of females who are playing a vital role in the development and production process of the country. Unfortunately though, due to negligence on the part of the government as well as employers, a large number of female workers are deprived of their basic rights and discriminated against in most industrial, business and commercial and other sectors.

According to the report on the women status in Pakistan 2023, of the women in labour force, 67% are employed in agriculture (as compared to 27% men); 16% in the services sector; and 14% in the manufacturing sector. Of all the female workers, 88% are education professionals (e.g. schoolteachers), 7% are healthcare professionals and 2.5% are employed in areas related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Of all women employed as skilled agricultural workers, 95% are serving as market-oriented skilled agricultural workers. In craft and related trades, 91% of women are employed in food processing, wood work and garment related trades.

Female workers are also taking the highest burden of unpaid work. The distribution of employed workers by employment status reveals that more than half (55%) of employed women are working as unpaid workers compared to 10% of employed men. Overall, 21% of workers are unpaid or contributing to family or are non-family workers. Besides, 19% of female and 40% of male workers are self-employed.

Despite the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the various ILO conventions and the country’s labour laws, a majority of female workers have been deprived of their basic rights: 8-hour daily work with one hour rest; fair wages; overtime for additional work; pick and drop facility; annual and casual leave, maternity leave, profit bonus, compulsory group insurance, healthcare facility for self and family through Social Security Institution; and EOBI pension after retirement.

The workplace environment for female workers is generally found unhealthy where they often fall victim to stress and harassment. Under hazardous work rules, female workers are not supposed to operate any heavy machinery in a factory where rubber, lead, chromium, petrol, etc are processed. Also, under the Mines Act, female workers have special exemptions whereby no female worker shall work in the mine, in any case.

Labour laws also provide special concession for female workers in daily working hour schedule: for the security and protection of female workers, they cannot be forced to work except between sunrise and sunset.

According to Factory Act, it is mandatory for every employer to make necessary arrangement for separate and screened toilets for their female workers whose doors have the writing ‘For women only’ along with a specific sign. Female workers are also required to provide a separate room for the care of a child below 6 years of age. They must also be provided safe drinking water as well as a separate wash basin with soap and towels for washing their hands and mouths.

Under West Pakistan Maternity Benefits Act 1961, every pregnant female worker shall get maternity leave and no pregnant worker can be forced to work in a factory during her maternity period.

Most of employers, especially educational institutions, does not register a significant number of female workers with EOBI for facility of old age, disability and survivors pension in future and Workers Welfare Fund, which is also a federal welfare organisation under which every entitled workers are provided education facility and scholarships for their children, marriage grant at Rs400,000 for unmarried daughters and death Grant of Rs800,000 to paid to spouse in case death of sudden death of worker during service. Unfortunately, a majority of female workers are not aware of all this.

It is also common that the wages of female workers are lower than their male counterparts, in sheer violation of the law.

This alarming situation requires an urgent need for the provincial Labour and Human Resource Departments, Employers Federation of Pakistan, trade unions and civil society to raise their voice for equal rights and decent employment conditions for millions of female workers.


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