Labour activists have welcomed the Punjab government’s lifting of a ban on labour inspections in factories.
A notification to that effect was issued by the Labour Department on February 17. The decision came after 24 people died when a factory in a residential area collapsed.
The ban had been imposed in 2003 after factory owners demanded that the inspections – during which working conditions and the overall safety of the workers were monitored – be halted. They had complained that inpectors harassed them and demanded bribes.
“The ban has been lifted with immediate effect,” said Saeed Awan, the director of the Centre for Improvement of Working Conditions and Environment (CIWCE) of the Labour and Human Resource Department.
According to Awan there are more than 150 labour inspectors in the Punjab. They will check if the workers are paid the minimum wage determined by the government and their working conditions including working hours, health and safety provisions are satisfactory.
Yousaf Balouch, the National Trade Union Federation Pakistan chairman, welcomed the lifting of the ban.
Inspections, said Balouch, need to be carried out regularly. If that had been the case the recent tragedy at Kharak might have been avoided, he said.
Balouch said that inspectors could be corrupt or their authority undercut as a result of political pressure but pointed out that inspections help create a degree of pressure on employers to ensure that labour laws are followed.
Though Syeda Ghulam Fatima, the Bonded Labour Liberation Front secretary general, welcomed the initiative, she said she would remain sceptical until the department sketched out a mechanism for the inspections. Industrialists, she said, could often use political connections to avoid inspections.
“It is tragic that it took the loss of so many lives for the government to realise how important labour inspections are,” Fatima said.
If carried out earnestly, she said, the inspections would restore the workers’ faith in the system.
Saeed Awan said that the department was currently working on developing a mechanism for inspections in consultation with workers, employers and the government.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2012.