Pakistan will never prosper without adopting policies that include the country’s labourers among the beneficiaries of their efforts, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said at the inaugural session of the first South Asia Labour Conference on Thursday.
Representatives of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the European Union, the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industries, the LCCI, the federal government, donor organisations, and labour representatives are participating in the three-day conference.
Sharif said labourers, investors and the businessman were all wheels supporting the same vehicle and had to work together. It was painful, he said, to see that only investors and managers were sharing the profits earned. The prosperity had not trickled down to poor labourers.
The chief minister said that if Pakistan wanted to compete with developed countries it needed to have policies that included labourers among beneficiaries of development. He said workers should be provided the same health and education facilities as the capitalists enjoyed.“We need to give them dignity because they are the backbone of the economy”, said Sharif. He said the Aashiana scheme for homeless people had been started for the working class.
Provincial Minister for Labour and Human Resources Raja Ashfaq Sarwar said South Asia was home to some of the most populous nations in the world. He said fast-paced development brought its own challenges, and addressing these challenges required an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual support among South Asian countries.
He said the countries may have competing commercial interests but had a common interest in increasing labour productivity. He said the South Asian region needed to learn from the practices of successful economies, especially China and Turkey.
Sarwar said that considering various South Asian countries had similar values, life styles and socio-economic infrastructure, the region should develop a collaborative strategy to better manage its labour market in line with international labour standards.
He said the role of the ILO in a globalised world was essential to ensure social justice. Sarwar said Pakistan had ratified and was implementing all eight ILO Fundamental Conventions in letter and spirit.
European Union Ambassador to Pakistan Lars-Gunnar Wigermark said job creation was one of the key issues facing South Asian countries, and indeed the world. He said the region was also experiencing a gradual shift from an agrarian economy to one based on manufacturing and services. He said this meant increased labour migration from rural areas to the cities.
Wigermark said South Asia had a mixed reputation in relation to labour market standards. He said there was a perception that child labour was widespread and bonded labour not non-existent in rural areas. He said conditions for workers in many industries were believed to be poor, and in some instances even life threatening. He said some of these characterizations were unfair, but unfortunately others were accurate.
Wigermark said in terms of regional cooperation, an EU-ILO regional initiative had recently started to promote the effective governance of labour migration from South Asia. The project which is funded by the EU covers India, Nepal, Pakistan and selected gulf countries. It aims to promote the management of labour, ensure effective protection of vulnerable migrant workers’ rights, and reduce unregulated migration, he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2014.
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