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The dilemma of labour legislation.

In fact the state of labour affairs remained gloomy since the inception of Pakistan. There had been no cordial relationship between the workers and the employers in the greater context. The natural outcome was the constant state of confrontation hat existed between the two. More depressing aspect was the passive attitude of governments which remained silent spectators n the whole proceedings. Despite Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif's categorical assurance in his May Day message, that anything short of a fair deal for workers will not promote the desired quality of performance and output, there is a common apprehension amongst the workforce that they will once again be left out in the new labour policy due to industrialists' upperhand.

Notwithstanding the fact that labour is the most important factor of production, labour in Pakistan has remained the most condemned and badly neglected part of the industrial process. it is disorganised, immobile and ineffective. Absenteeism is rampant. Wages are low and, therefore, standard of diet and health is low. Trade unionism is still in infancy and is mostly controlled by outsiders. The bureaucratic set-up which was assigned the job of solving labour problems was incompetent and it believed in old philosophies of dealing with labour by such cruel law as the Iron Law of Wages. The disarrayed and ill-equipped trade unionism has created a state of anarchy among labourers. Non implementation and faulty enforcement remained the main obstacles in making labour policies workable.

The labour laws in Pakistan are quite out-dated. No sincere effort has ever been made to enact labour legislation or to amend the existing labour laws according to contemporary needs. The working conditions and environments have changed completely since the time these legislations were promulgated. Most of the labour-laws were inherited from the British India. The other dilemma is that out of over 200 ILO Conventions, Pakistan has ratified only 30. These include l5 which had already been ratified by the pre-partition government. Our record in this respect is worst than that of many third world countries. The objective of ILO Conventions is to safe-guard the interest of the working community, provide legislative and social action and protecting workers against exploitation beside fostering industrial peace and harmony by creating working understanding between the worker and the employer. Member countries are required to ratify these conventions and make labour laws conform to these to ensure justice for workers in term of wages, social benefits and security of jobs.

In fact the state of labour affairs remained gloomy since the inception of Pakistan. There had been no cordial relationship between the workers and the employers in the greater context. The natural outcome was the constant state of confrontation that existed between the two. More depressing aspect was the passive attitude of governments which remained silent spectators in the whole proceedings.

Irony is that Pakistan government ratified ILO Convention 87 and 98 which guaranteed the Freedom of Association and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining respectively. But Employees have not been given these rights in organisations like PTV, PBC, Hospitals etc. Though the worker of banks and Financial institutions have the right to form unions but the fight of Collective Bargaining has been snatched away and their wages and other benefits are determined by Wage Commission Awards.

Similar is the case of Labour Policy which has been long over-due. The announcement is delayed on one or the other pretext. It was earlier assumed that process of privatisation was delaying its announcement because the government did not want to annoy either the employees or the owners of the privatised units. The other factor was the lack of consensus between the representatives of labour and employers on major issues like Hire and Fire right and a ban on the membership of outsiders in union. Unfortunately labour policies in Pakistan failed to achieve required objectives. Because these were framed in isolation without realizing that workers and employers are complementary and one cannot succeed if the other is lop-sided. The policy pursued during Ayub era was heavily tilted towards employers and the one under PPP in 1972 was just the opposite. The periodically held Tripartite Labour Conferences could not frame a labour policy in line with the industrial needs.

Despite Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif's categorical assurance in his May Day message, that anything short of a fair deal for workers will not promote the desired quality of performance and output, there is a common apprehension amongst the workforce that they will once again be left out in the new labour policy due to industrialists' upperhand.

The labour leaders are also of the view that unnecessary bureaucratic controls in the public sector industries create problem in maintaining the labour-management relations, because the bureaucracy has no knowledge of the problems of workers. Even the management is not trusted upon by the bureaucrat. The result is that the agreements arrived at between the workers and management are not implemented. Contract labour system is also a curse. Contract labour is employed against permanent jobs which is a violation of existing laws. Over one third of the workforce in the manufacturing sector consist of contract labour force. The system is irrevelant in the textile, mining, sugar and garment industries. Contract system was introduced to sidetrack labour laws and to mutilate the rights of the worker. There is a consensus among labour leaders that the contract system should immediately be abolished.

To get desired objectives it is imperative that new labour policy should be a balanced one. It should thus keep in view the shortcomings and flaws in the existing labour laws. Moreover, violation of labour laws particularly those relating to child labour and working hours should not go unpunished. Increase in productivity should be rewarded under the new policy. The workers and employers should sign productivity agreements. The new labour policy should also provide a monitoring system for a prompt action against possible irregularities. Further, the Ministry looking after Manpower, Labour and Overseas Pakistanis lacks proper management. Seminar and Conferences held under its auspices were mostly proved an exercise in futility. Despite assurances Federal Ministry for Labour could not announce Labour policy. It has no proper planning for the returning overseas workers as well. As a result the unemployment problem is aggravating. According to a trade union leader the ministry is more interested in foreign remittances than the welfare and betterment of the overseas workers.

Agricultural Labourer

So far the position of agricultural labourer is concerned they are in no better position than 18th century slaves working on forms in the Southern States of USA. They live and work under inhumane conditions. There is a plethora of labour legislation and huge machinery for their implementation for a relatively smaller number of industrial workers but there is no provision for security and better working conditions over millions of agricultural labourer. This problem should not be ignored any longer and must be tackled expeditiously. Moreover, agriculture-based industries should be established to bring the peasantry out of the yoke of feudalists. This would also lessen burden on urban centres. The influx of population to cities gives birth to dimensional problems and tears-apart the fabrics of the society.
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Title Annotation:Pakistan
Author:Jabir, Rafique
Publication:Economic Review
Date:May 1, 1992
Words:1195
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