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Labour scenario.

Socio-economic exploitation of the downtrodden is the dilemma of our society. Nothing has been done to eliminate the element of unfairness built into the industrial system. The industrial workers have no unified platform to represent their case. The capital owners are busy in minting money. In fact the industrial autocracy cannot enhance its wealth unless it pays workers less what they actually deserve. Economic freedom has become a day dream for the exploited classes in Pakistan. The outgoing IJI government in its election manifesto promised to fix worker's minimum wage at Rs. 3,000/- per month. Even after remaining 2-1/2 years in power it could not materialize its promise. The Minimum Wage bill passed by the National assembly has fixed the minimum wage at Rs. 1500/- per month for an unskilled worker. Unfortunately this too was not implemented. The Federal Labour Minister in the interim setup Mr. Zahid Sarfraz, who has to look after the labour affairs in the country has concentrated all his efforts over the accountability of the deposed Prime Minister Mr. Nawaz Sharif. He appears to be least concerned about his Ministry.

It is quite astonishing to note that the living standard of the workers is continuously declining with the inflation rate touching the double digit. The escalated prices have further aggravated the problems of the working community. Unfortunately the rulers in Pakistan have always adopted a criminal silence over the issue because of their class character.

Contract system is a stigma for a civilized society. In the private sector workers continue to be hired on contract basis and are paid less wages without fringe benefits and jobs security. The system of contract labour on permanent jobs is aimed at to benefit the employer. Workers under contract system are not allowed benefits as admissible under various Social Security and workers welfare schemes. Female workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation under the contract system.

The Bonded Labour Abolition Act 1992 was passed by the parliament The non-implementation of the Act is a human insult and violation of human rights charter. In bonded labour more than a million brick kiln workers continued to be treated like slaves. Child labour and slavery system is another stigma on the face of Pakistan. Although labour regulatory laws in almost all the countries forbid engagement of children below 12 or 15 years on hire work, yet this curse continue unabated. According to ILO Report as many as 20 million slaves are living in our country. They do not exist in government records. These people do not have the right to vote as they do not have National Identity Cards. According to reports a Bill has been moved in the US congress providing for cutting off of trade relations with countries which practice child labour in contravention of the International Labour Organisation's conventions. The US Ambassador John C. Monjo told the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry that the employment of child and bonded labour in Pakistan had tarnished the image of this country. The Ambassador warned that if child labour continued as at present it could threaten Pakistan's exports to the US.

There are voiceless farm labourers including tenants and Haris in rural areas as well. These silent millions are suffering from an iniquitous agrarian system, a legacy of British imperialism. They are disorganized and are unaware of their rights as citizen of Pakistan. They spend their lives chained to the land as sons of soil but without inheritance. No effort has been made to save them from economic slavery through appropriate legislation. This is a curse of our feudal oriented society. Peasants and workers comprising 80 per cent of country's population are not represented in the assemblies. These forums are occupied by their masters. It appears illogical that the assemblies with existing complexion would do anything positive for them.

So far the labour policy is concerned the previous government made various announcements but it never saw the light of the day. Due to lack of proper legislation there remains a constant confrontation between the employee and the employer. A built-in system of state intervention could only ensure harmony. The bone of contention between the employers and the employees is the former's demand of hire and fire right and the latter's to observe strike. The employers also do not take professional trade union leaders in good spirit. The workers too have a lot of grievances against the employers. The role of state is passive in this regard. It did nothing to bring both of them on the negotiation table to sort out problem. In fact most of the labour laws are quite outdated. They had been enacted either in pre-colonial era or in 60s and 70s. A lot of water since then has already gone under the bridge but these laws though redundant are still in practice.

It may not be far wrong to assume that the process of privatisation is delaying the announcement of Labour Policy because the government does not want to annoy either the existing employees or the new owners of the privatised industrial units. The privatisation process in the country rendered many workers jobless. Under the scheme of golden handshake. It is generally believed that the privatisation process without proper checks for the betterment of workers could be back to square one. The announcement of Labour Policy alone cannot be an occasion for celebration. To gain wide acceptance it has to meet the standards set by the ILO and safeguard the rights of the workers as well as those of the employers. Indeed, the crucial test will lie in how best it is able to harmonise the workers' interest with those of the employers. Unfortunately labour policies in Pakistan have so far failed to achieve this end. The policy pursued by the Ayub regime was heavily weighted in favour of the employers, while the last one of 1972, under the first PPP government, was just the opposite. In both cases, the end-results were discouraging. This was so because industrial policies were framed in isolation, not realising that the employee and employer are complementary and one cannot succeed if the other is lopsided. Even the constitution of Pakistan states that the provision of basic needs is the sole responsibility of the state. If the constitution of Pakistan is followed in letter and spirit almost all the problems of the citizens of Pakistan could be solved. The problem is that the laws in our country are enacted in total violation of the constitution of Pakistan and other international conventions.

Irony is that Pakistan being a signatory to various ILO Conventions failed to fulfil its own commitments. Right of Association has been guaranteed under ILO Convention but in many organisations like TV, Radio, Printing Press etc. the workers have been denied this right. In organisations like Banks this right has been given but they are not entitled of Collective Bargaining Right. The government has withdrawn existing labour laws at least from nine industries. The government also announced Finance Bill 1992 and trade policies which exempted industries set-up in the industrial zones and those exporting 70 per cent of their production from the application of labour laws. The exemption may promote industrialists interests but not the industrial progress or industrial peace in the country.

Successive governments in Pakistan have ignored ILO Conventions which if adopted could have provided some measure of security and respect to the wage earner. Former Supreme Court judge Mr. Justice (Retd.) Dorab Patel said that out of the over two hundred ILO Conventions Pakistan has so far ratified no more than thirty. These also include those fifteen Conventions which had already been ratified by the British government prior to the partition. Our record in this respect is the worst than most in the Third World countries.

There is no participation of labour in the schemes made out for their benefit. All the levies and laws like Factory Act, Social Security, Insurance, EOBI, Education Cess, in short, every law of levy is applied upon or paid by the Employers on behalf of Employees. The result in that the Labourers are not at all interested how these labour welfare schemes work, what they collect, how they disburse it? It will also be noticed that the majority of Employees in small industries and even in big institutions do not even bother to get their registration card either from the Employers or the Government Departments. The reason is that they get little or poor service from the Agencies which collect these levies.

Successive governments have tried to solve the labour problems with great fan fare. Unfortunately these proved to be worst type of exploitation in the name of labour. For instance huge funds have been collected in the name of various social and welfare schemes. Large part of these funds remains unutilised. There is no exact figure available that how much fund has been collected in the name of education of workers and how much of it was disbursed for the workers welfare. The best utilisation of these funds is the construction of houses for workers.
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Title Annotation:Pakistan
Author:Raza, Moosi
Publication:Economic Review
Date:May 1, 1993
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