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KEPZ - non-existence of labour laws.

The investors at EPZ, who mostly belong to the developed countries of the world which has always voiced its concern against the child labour at different international forums are breaking their own rules in Pakistan just to pile up a crack of gold. ILO prohibits employment of children below 18 years.

Foreign Investors are earning millions of dollars by violating the international Labour Organisation (ILO) supported laws in Karachi Export Processing Zone (EPZ). These foreign investors are guilty of paying low wages, secret hiring of non-Pakistanis, absence of medical care and any relief for death and injury under social security scheme of Pakistan. Nearly 40 per cent of labour including males and females working in the 50 units of the EPZ are suffering from denial of labour rights enjoyed by their compatriots in rest of the country.

Interestingly, the administration of the EPZ is claiming that nearly 6,000 skilled and unskilled workers are working in 50 units set-up by the EPZ under the strict guidance of the Director of Labour but this calculation seemed outdated because according to a survey there are over 13,000 workers half of them Bengalis, who are working with much lower pay, without any facilities and record. The sources also revealed that managements hired the workers without informing EPZ's Director of Labour to maximise profits by employing with lesser salary. Majority of these workers even after working for five years are still not classified as permanent employees.

Great injustices have been faced by the female workers of the units, who are mostly Bengalis. These female workers have been denied medical facilities when they needed these most. Even during pregnancy, they have to work to earn their bread. They are not granted leave with pay. Instead, their services are terminated if they are absent from duty for more than two days. The other workers are advised to apply for the leave much before no matter if it is emergency. It means if someone has an accident he or she must inform the management in advance that "tomorrow I will meet an accident, so please grant me leave beforehand."

The Karachi EPZ Control of Employment Order No. 3 (No Fac-17-005 dated February 19, 1984) lays down that child means a person who was not completed his or her fifteenth years and the minimum age for enrolment as an apprentice shall be 15 years. The investors at EPZ, who mostly belong to the developed countries of the world which has always voiced its concern against the child labour at different international forums are breaking their own rules in Pakistan just to pile up a crack of gold. ILO prohibits employment of children below 18 years.

Surprisingly the labour was ignorant about the registration of the employees with an insurance company. According to the EPZ Control Of Employment Order No. 4 clause 3, "All the employees working in the Industrial Undertakings of the EPZ shall be insured for providing Social Security benefits. The employers shall set apart 7 per cent of the wages of the workers for this purpose, out of which the premium shall be paid to the insurance company for providing cover to the employees and balance shall be paid to the employees in cash in lieu of the remaining social security benefits till such times as alternative arrangements for providing these benefits are made." But the source at EPZ informed this scribe that not a single person ever benefited by the insurance security scheme and a sizeable number of workers are not even aware of this facility because the Directorate of Labour never tried to educate the workers about the laws applicable and facilities to be available at the EPZ.

It was also learnt on good authority that ILO has written twice to the EPZ administration about the labour plight which were clarified by sending ILO a copy of the EPZ's (Control of Employment) Rules issued by Ministry of Industries on October 10, 1982 which maintained that in its SRO 1004 (1)/82. "In exercise of the powers conferred by section 25 of EPZ Authority Ordinance, 1982 (iv of 1980), the Federal Government is pleased to exempt the EPZ from all the provisions of the following laws, namely:

1. the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1923 (VIII of 1923);

2. the Factories Act, 1934 (XXV of 1934);

3. the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 (IV of 1936);

4. the Maximum Wages Ordinance, 1961 (XXXIX of 1961);

5. the Provincial Employees' Social Security Ordinance, (WP Ordinance No. X of 1965);

6. the West Pakistan Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Orders) Ordinance, 1968 (WP Ordinance No. VI of 1968);

7. the Industrial Relation Ordinance, 1969 (XXIII of 1969);

8. the West Pakistan Shops and Establishment Ordinance, 1969 (WP Ordinance No. VIII of 1969); and

9. the Employees Old-age Benefits Act 1976 (XIV of 1976).

Ironically, all these nine exempted from all the provisions are nothing but to make happy the foreign investors, a sort of compromise between EPZ and foreign investors by screwing the very laws of ILO.

Talking to this scribe, an official of EPZ said that by exempting above labour laws the EPZ is providing a suitable environment to the foreign investors. It is a mind-boggling question that why only the workers of EPZ are not benefiting from the very laws which other fellow workers are enjoying throughout the country?

Banning the labour unions at EPZ amounts to providing chances to foreign investors to rake in the money and the officials of the EPZ act as if they are trouble-shooters for them. Foreign investors, having the EPS in their pocket frequently get the rules changed to suit their interests. Prohibition of strike rule is another example of injustice. No matter what treatment the labours at EPZ receive from his or her employers, they cannot stage a strike. The prohibition of strike rule says no employee shall (a) refrain from or refuse to work or go on strike or (b) commence, continue, investigate, incite or compel others to take part in or support, go slow or strike.

It is common belief that rules are made for the betterment of human beings, and if some rules were made for the betterment of a particular class or interests then they must change. Here one is not trying to cast anyone in the role of a villain. The purpose is to highlight the suffering of 13,000 workers, who are in agony because of weak policy of the concerned Departments of Provincial and Federal Government. This policy needs immediate attention to make the laws more just and equitable and institute a fool proof monitoring system so that Pakistani workers do not suffer in their own land at the hands of the foreigners.
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Title Annotation:Karachi Export Processing Zone
Publication:Economic Review
Date:May 1, 1993
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