KARACHI: Labour union leaders in Sindh are in uproar over the federal government’s refusal to hand over control of the Workers Welfare Fund (WWF) to the provinces. They criticise the government for keeping the fund under its purview even after it gave control of the labour department and the Workers Welfare Board (WWB) to the provinces after the passage of the 18th constitutional amendment.
“The federal government kept control over the WWF because of monetary interests,” alleged National Trade Union Federation deputy general secretary Nasir Mansoor.
The WWF was constituted under the Workers Welfare Ordinance of 1971, and the federal government initially contributed Rs100 million to the fund. Multinational corporations and other companies with sizable workforces are principally responsible for contributing to the fund every year. The funds are collected by the provincial governments and then passed onto the federal government.
How are the funds used?
The WWF disburses funds among labourers and other low-wage workers in the form of jahaiz funds (dowry funds), or scholarships for children of the workers. Funds are also used for the construction of clinics and dispensaries in the area.
Mansoor says that Sindh contains nearly 65 per cent of all industries in the country and also houses the biggest chunk of the country’s workforce. As such, it also contributes the lion’s share of the funds to the WWF.
However, Mansoor said that workers in Sindh were being left out when it came to the disbursement of resources. “[Authorities] should come to see how labourers live their lives in Landhi, Korangi Industrial Area, Sher Shah and SITE Town. They need houses, schools, community and training centres.” Mansoor also alleged that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan were not paying their fair share into the fund.
Trade union member Saifur Rehman Kundi said that while the WWB Sindh approved funds for projects in the province, the government did not release funds from the WWF. “[Eligible] workers have not received jahaiz funds for the last four years. WWF has also not released funds for scholarships [for deserving students] to the WWB Sindh.”
Sindh Labour Minister Ameer Nawab said that while Rs2.7 billion were approved for the Sindh Workers Welfare Board in 2011, it had received only one-third of that amount so far.
Nawab added that the WWF was not the only federal entity that was neglecting the provinces. “It is difficult to understand the [status of] Employees Old Age Benefit Institution and the WWF, as both are parts of labour department, but none of them have been transferred to the provinces.”
The federal government
The government defends its position by saying that it has kept the WWF as a central entity where provinces pool resources, which are then distributed according to the needs of workers in each province. The argument goes since Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan do not that have many industries, they would be unable to initiate benefit schemes for their workers.
However, Mansoor was unimpressed by the argument. “This is the only time when the federal government speaks about the rights of small provinces. Does it not have other means to increase the money collection from KP and Balochistan? They have [natural] resources available.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2012.