Working almost 13 hours a day especially in harvesting season, farm hand Abdullah, 52, earns barely enough to feed his family of six. Little does this micro unit of Pakistan’s workforce know that as he does his day’s work, a struggle is under way at a macro level to reform the country’s labour laws.
Labour laws – an overview
Pakistan’s labour laws trace their origin to legislation inherited from India at the time of partition of the Asian subcontinent. The laws have evolved through a continuous process of trial to meet the socio-economic conditions, state of industrial development, population and labour force explosion, growth of trade unions, level of literacy, government’s commitment to development and social welfare. The government has introduced a number of labour policies, since its independence to mirror the shifts in governance from martial law to democratic governance.
Each of our provinces has different labour legislation. In some provinces only industrial workers and service workers have the right to organise but no right to bargain collectively.
In Punjab, for example, only units with over 50 workers can organise themselves. Workers in the informal sector are left uncovered by labour laws.
Amendments are needed to harmonise the provincial labour legislations in line with Pakistan’s ratified ILO conventions.
Better days for labour?
A recent effort in this regard has been a series of consultations initiated by the ILO. All the relevant stakeholders came together to review and propose changes to selected labour laws. These suggestions will later be drafted into legislations.
To this end the previous PPP government had abolished a number of restrictive labour laws, restored trade unions, devised a new labour policy, promulgated the Industrial Relations Act 2012 and withdrawn special powers to remove employees from service. While the minimum wage was revised upwards, pensions were doubled.
More needs to be done
Efforts must continue to promote the registration of workers in trade unions and improve the functioning of the Workers Welfare Fund with the issuance of labour cards. Home-based workers, domestic workers, farm workers and peasants should be allowed to register for social security after the appropriate legal mechanisms are devised.
An important step forward would be that the scope of labour laws is expanded to cover Fata, Pata, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
“Laws should be framed to safeguard employment and service conditions, and promote human resource development,” said Capt (retd) Yusuf, Secretary, Department of Labour Punjab.
Suggested way forward
There is a need to increase women’s participation in the workplace and secure their rights by enforcing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment legislation.
Bonded labour practices and the incidence of internal and external human trafficking can be prevented by strengthening law enforcement responses. The department is achieving this by computerising field level reporting, added Hasnat Javed, Director Labour Welfare, Department of Labour, Punjab.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2013.