Labour: Home based workers demand rights

National conference urges provincial govts to speed up policy making.

Aroosa Shaukat October 28, 2011


More than 300 home-based workers participated in a national conference organised by HomeNet Pakistan on Thursday, demanding recognition and labour rights.

The conference, Sharing Challenges, Opportunities and the Way Forward, engaged policy makers and various stakeholders in a bid to create a consensus on the national labour policy draft currently under consideration by the federal cabinet.

The exhibition which accompanied the conference was inaugurated by the Sindh Minister for Labour Amir Nawab. Punjab government, however, was not represented. Khalid Mehmood, the director of Labour Education Foundation (LEF), while speaking with The Express Tribune said the home-based workers were being exploited at ‘all levels’. “Women constitute 70 per cent of the home-based workers in Pakistan,” Mehmood said. He demanded that the informal sector workers should be given rights similar to those granted to workers in the formal sector.

HomeNet Pakistan Executive Director Umme Laila Azhar urged the provincial government to address the issues of home-based workers and speed up the policy making process. Azhar added that there is a need to identify the 12 million home-based workers in Pakistan as a ‘workforce’.

Nawab said the labour policy draft had been formed after several consultative meetings. He added that a notification will soon be sent for the establishment of a task force by Sindh Labour Department, which will look into the legal aspects of the policy.

“It is unfair and unjust that these workers have yet to be given legal protection,” the minister added. He urged all the provincial governments to ensure equality in treatment, decent wages and enhancement in the skill-set of home-based workers.

Rehana Yasmeen, general secretary of the Sindh Hosiery, Garment, General Workers Union said the situation is far worse in Sindh than it is in the Punjab. Azra Parveen, a lace maker from Karachi, said she earns Rs100 for preparing 30 laces, each 7-metre long. “Preparing 30 laces engages me for an entire day, by the end of which I am handed Rs100, where is there justice in this?” Parveen said.

According to the LEF, in Punjab, home-based workers are largely employed in making shoes, assembling minor parts of electronic equipment including computer spares, peeling and packing dry fruit. Though embroidery and stitching largely constitute the work for which home-based workers are employed, LEF claims a variety of tasks previously limited to factories are now being taken into homes.

Mehmood said the draft of the national labour policy had been sent to the cabinet and was pending approval.  He added that the policy would serve as a guideline for provincial strategies and ensure that they are in line with the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 177, which deals with the rights of home-based workers. Article 4 of the convention grants home-based workers the right to form and join unions, protection against discrimination, access to training and social security protection.

The conference ended with the passing of a unanimous declaration demanding rights for home-based workers. Members of various NGOs, trade unions and home-based workers from Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and Punjab shared their experiences and their opinions. HomeNet Pakistan chairperson Nigar Ahmad, former National Assembly member Mehnaz Rafi and Salman Abid from Strengthening Participatory Organisation also spoke on the occasion.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 28th, 2011.


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