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Labour policy without consensus would be an exercise in futility.

Labour Policy Without Consensus would be an Exercise in Futility

One of the most veteran trade union leaders of the country, Mr. Nabi Ahmed (59) is the Secretary General of Muttahida Labour Federation. He stepped into trade unionism in 1948 as Section Representative in General Motors Overseas Corporation. Since 1949 to 1963, he was entrusted different offices of the union. As an active member of the trade union he formed unions in other reputed organisations. Soon after the conversion of the General Motors into Ghandhara Industries he was sacked. Mr. Nabi Ahmed studied Labour Economics and Trade Union administration in the Universities of Philippines and Turkey. As a labour delegate he visited China, Iran, Turkey, Great Britain and Germany. Economic Review interviewed Mr. Nabi Ahmed, regarding the current labour issues. Following are the excerpts:

Economic Review: What is the background of Labour Laws in our country and what will be your recommendations about the proposed Labour Policy? Nabi Ahmed: Most of our existing labour laws have their origin in pre-independence era. The objective conditions since then have changed and so the objectivity and effectiveness of the laws to meet contemporary requirements. Such laws include: Fatal Accident Act 1855, Railway Labour Court Act 1890, Immigration Act 1922, Mines Act 1923, Boilers Act 1923, Workers Compensation Act 1923, Merchant Shipping Act 1923, Children Act 1933, Dock Labour Act 1934, Factories Act 1934, Payment of Wages Act 1936, Employers Liability Act 1938, Employment of Children Act 1939. There are so many other pre-partitioned laws which are being practiced at present in our country. As a result the changes taken place since then in machines, process of production, raw material etc. are not reflected in the existing laws.

During Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's regime the media played a significant role in highlighting Bhutto policies regarding job security of workers. The labour legislation was enacted in a manner as if it provided enough employment safeguards. It was not like that. Employers at that time also had the powers of hire and fire under the term |Misconduct' which empowers them enormous rights'. Moreover, 90 per cent court decisions are in favour of employers. Even then they need unanswerable powers of hire and fire which are unchallengable in the court of law to run the organisation. It tends to mean the legalisation of exploitation and oppression.

While framing the Labour Policy it should be kept in mind that the workers are under the burden of sky rocketed prices of day to day commodities. According to government figures the prices of commodities increased to 173.44 per cent in 1970 since 1948-49. Again making the 1970 as base year the prices went to 395.99 per cent in 1982 and from 1981 to 1988 went upto 151.49 per cent. But ironically the wages of the workers have not been increased proportionately. The increase of Rs. 1500 at this stage is unable to withstand the price escalation. Earlier the wages in Karachi were comparatively higher than other provinces but today the minimum wages in Karachi were lower than Balochistan. The present Prime Minister when he was Chief Minister of Punjab has given wage increase to workers on many occasions. But the ad hoc relief of Rs. 200/- in Sindh is conditional and subject to marginal adjustments and the employer is trying to set it off. But that amount in Punjab is a part of salary.

Provision of living wage and conducive working conditions are the prerequisites of efficiency and productivity. According to ILO experts a Pakistani family consists of atleast 5 members. Employers should chalk out the budget of an average family and link it up with the price inflation. When the employer increases the cost of product the wages should be increased proportionately. Nobody pays attention and gives heed to such problems. Productivity of Japan, Taiwan and Korea is quoted frequently by our employers as a sermon to our workers. But forget to tell about the living conditions and rate of employment of those countries where the employers have to stand in queues along the workers in social set-up. The employers of those countries are neither involved in profiteering nor they deposit their money in other countries.

We are willing to cooperate with the employers provided they consider workers as human being and their needs a responsibility. We are at pains to say that neither the close relations with workers were ever established nor an atmosphere of confidence and cordiality was created. Our industrialists should understand the situation that our country is under the yoke of foreign loans. A huge amount is being spent on debt servicing. Budgets' major sharegoes to Defence. Economic freedom is not possible unless joint action is not taken.

In the present scenario Labour Policy without consensus would be an exercise in futility. The government should give heed to both workers and the employers without prejudices. We want to convince the government and the employers through facts that the industrial growth depends on the better working conditions of the workers. Productivity is better where the employment conditions are conducive. It is strange enough that Labour Policy is framed without considering the national demands to suit one's designs. Representative of workers and employers should be taken in confidence in the larger interest of the nation. Furthermore the workers should also be consulted on Industrial Policy, Import Policy and on all aspects of a produce.

ER: Do the labour laws in practice safeguard the interests of the workers? NA: Unfortunately the labour laws in our country are not applied in letter and spirit. The objectives as such could not be achieved. The previous Labour Policy of Retd. Air Marshal Noor Khan, generally known as IRO 1969 is a part of Labour Laws and embodies two sections, one relates to the formation and registration of Trade Unions and the other to Industrial disputes. This policy clearly mentions: "The government believes that the workers were ill-treated in the past. In the period when the productivity and prosperity was on the increase the real wages and living conditions of the workers remained stagnant and in most cases further deteriorated. In a developing country like Pakistan rapid development should be the basic objective of all efforts because without the highest progress rate the country could not break the shackles of poverty. If the pace of growth is not maintained our incoming generation would face consequences of our failures. The progress can become meaningful only when every citizen gets due share from economic prosperity. In fact the process of development of the country could be maintained through the participation and involvement of each citizen".

The above policy was constituted under the guidance of highly educated experts keeping in view the objective conditions of the country. Unfortunately the country could not be benefited from the findings of the policy. There is another Industrial and Commercial Standing Ordinance whose implementation could create harmony between the workers and the employers. But the experience unveils the fact that the workers have been deprived of their legal rights deliberately. There are lot of examples of blatant violation of the laws by the employers. For instance under Workers Participation Act, whenever additional capital of a company is increased, share of given percentage is required to be given to the workers essentially. It is on record that the additional capital was increased but no share was given to the workers. Workers should get double overtime on total wages but 90 per cent organisations are reluctant in payment. Lawful leaves are not granted. Workers are not registered in EOABI and their contribution is not deposited. The agony of such workers in old age is inconceivable. An employee whose job is not of managerial status is entitled to EOABI contribution, no matter he draws salary upto Rs. 5,000/-. But to benefit the employer the maximum contribution payable is only Rs. 1,500/- of wage. It is regretful that if a worker dies after three years of service his widow is not entitled to Pension. Though she has the legal right of life pension even after remarriage. The Employment Insurable Law implies on all commercial and industrial establishments having the strength of 10 or more workers. The law encompasses the workers of the 332 companies registered on KSE. Under the law if a worker is declared medically invalid by an EOABI Doctor he should get temporary pension for 5 years. After the periodical checkup of 5 years if he continues to be invalid, he should get permanent pension. In most cases the workers have not been given protection under the law.

Training is not imparted under the Apprenticeship Ordinance to the Trainees. Companies Profit Workers Participation Act is not practiced even by the government of Pakistan. Whatever the contribution received through welfare laws, a lions share goes to the government, which is not spent on the welfare of the workers. Factories Act provides safety from health hazards but there is no reasonable research on noise, heat and chemicals with which a worker is encountered with during production process. We do admit the carelessness, ignorance and ineptness of the workers in this connection, but no proper training has been imparted to them on the subject. In Standing Ordinance an incentive has been provided for additional production through dialogue with CBA and proposals in this behalf should be forwarded to the provincial government. But nothing as such has been done by our employers for additional productivity. Our employers, because of their status and knowledge have additional responsibilities to fulfil as compared to workers.

In short the provisions of the applicable labour laws are blatantly violated. The employers try to confine to the minimum protection offered to the employee under the existing laws. The workers lack the feeling of well-being and security.

ER: The employers have complaints against the outside influence in trade unions - what is the real reason behind the protest. NA: Outside trade union leaders who are named as outside professionals are really the workers of different industries who became the victims of employers' injustices. Because of advocating workers genuine point of view they lost their jobs. I served for about 16 years in a local industry with devotion and punctuality, but I was sacked because I voiced against management's unfair attitude. Such victimised trade union workers and office-bearers with struggle and experiences of years together at their credit formed different workers forum with the support of their colleagues.

Behind the criticism management tries to hide its unfair labour practices because their trade secrets are exposed by them. It abuses outside professionals and propagates it through media over which it has complete control. Simple trader with feudal background and thinking becomes an industrialist within a year or two and regains his 100 per cent Paid-up Capital. Such an industrialist for the safeguard of his interest can engage a lawyer to represent him. The worker has the similar rights to nominate his representative to safeguard his legal rights. Moreover, if you calculate the statistics of strike in different industries of Pakistan you will be astonished to note that most of the strikes took place where there was no outside professional trade union leader.

ER: What is your comment about contract labour? NA: It is an epidemic which is spreading fast. Earlier contract labour was only engaged for loading and unloading of goods and raw materials. Now regular workers have been removed and contract labour was engaged for production. Contract workforce do not have the rights of leaves, Group Insurance, Social Security and other benefits. They can be retrenched without assigning any reason as they do not have the protection of labour laws. They work under inhumane conditions on less wages. Intelligent employers in view of becoming overnight-millionaire and getting rid of the regular workers, prefer contract labour because the cheap labour force cannot knock at the doors of justice.

ER: What are your comments on denationalisation. NA: Denationalisation is being carried out in a haste without considering pros and cons. It would be counter productive. Instead of establishing new industrial units profitable units are being denationalised. An atmosphere of competition, necessary for economic growth, is not being created. The govt. should allow private investors to establish new units of their choice. The process of privatisation would render thousands of people jobless. The country is incapable to withstand such adventurism.

PHOTO : Mr. Nabi Ahmed and Mrs. Kaneez Fatima along with the participants of a Training Workshop organised by Commonwealth Trade Union Council recently in Karachi.

PHOTO : From right to left on the dias are Mr. Nabi Ahmed, Prof. Karrar Hussain, Dr. Zaki Hassan, Ms. Kate Phillips and Mr. A. A. Shaheed in a Training Workshop organised by the Commonwealth Trade Union Council.
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Title Annotation:Special Issue: Industrial Relations in Pakistan '91; interview with Nabi Ahmed
Author:Haque, Ansarul
Publication:Economic Review
Article Type:interview
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:National Finance Commission (1990) Award.
Next Article:Employment-oriented labour policy is the need of the hour.

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