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Pakistani labourers’ fair demands – by I.A. Rehman

Since it is not possible to push a new bill through parliament in two days the government has only two options. It may have the proposed new legislation issued as an ordinance or take refuge under the oft-criticised subterfuge that with the lapse of IRA 2008 the Musharraf-made ordinance of 2002 will stand revived.

There are only two days left before the Industrial Relations Act (IRA) 2008 expires and there is no sign of a new and more just labour law that the government has been promising and which should be enforceable from May 1.

Since it is not possible to push a new bill through parliament in two days the government has only two options. It may have the proposed new legislation issued as an ordinance or take refuge under the oft-criticised subterfuge that with the lapse of IRA 2008 the Musharraf-made ordinance of 2002 will stand revived.

Neither option will clear the government of the charge of treating labour with less than the respect it deserves. Obviously no lesson was learnt from the fiasco of the tripartite conference of 2009 which was a travesty of the real thing and a waste of the funds provided by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). True, the government has had its plate full of contentious issues but the preparation of a new industrial relations law cannot be ignored by any responsible government.

Let it be understood at the outset that a progressive IRA is not needed in labour’s interest alone; it is needed in the interest of the country’s entire population. A law that facilitates the smooth functioning of industry, that could resolve employer-labour tensions, and that guarantees the workers what is due to them is as much in the interest of the nation as it is in the interest of employers and labour. Indeed the respect practically shown for the rights and needs of labour is a good indicator of the level of respect a state shows for the basic rights of its citizens.

It is therefore a matter of fundamental importance that the new industrial relations law that justly accommodates all three stakeholders — the state/people, the employers and labour — should be expeditiously adopted and enforced. This can be done in the spirit that was visible when the government assisted the passage of two pro-labour private member’s (Raza Rabbani) bills earlier this year.

Fortunately, the government can draw upon a remarkable consensus that the parties concerned have developed, after prolonged deliberations, on essential changes in the 2008 law. The government itself received credit for scrapping some objectionable provisions of the IRO 2002 and it could have garnered much greater goodwill if it had consulted employers and labour before settling for a rehash of the 1969 law in its 2008 bill.

More important, the Workers Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan (Webcop), a body representing employers and labour both, has produced a consensus draft on what needs to be done. Workers’ organisations have prepared their own suggestions. Further, the PPP can take pride in and derive guidance from its own 2004 bill that it had moved to seek amendments to the oppressive decree issued by Gen Musharraf in 2002.

The important consensus demands are:

— The key terms used in the act, such as ‘industry’, ‘workman’, ‘contractor’, ‘settlement’ and ‘employer’, should be redefined and the mischief caused by different definitions in different enactments ended. The demand is valid also on the ground that it will allow the unionisation of workers in many areas where this is still prohibited.

— The havoc caused by some employers by getting two ‘pocket’ unions registered and making the rise of a genuine trade union difficult should be ended.

— The number of labour courts and labour appellate tribunals should be increased and their presiding officers drawn from amongst active or retired judicial officers. Their selection should be subject to consultation with the chief justices. The same principle should apply to the head of the National Industrial Relations Commission (NIRC).

— Section 27-B of the Banking Ordinance should be repealed, as it has already done enormous damage to workers’ cause.

— The protection granted to union office-bearers during a dispute should be available to all its members.

— The rule that two unions can be allowed to form a national federation is ridiculous. The facility should be available to a sizeable number of unions and some condition of support in more than one province should apply.

— A CBA (collective bargaining agent) should have the right to demand re-audit of the accounts of industrial establishments, particularly of employers who deny profits in their books.

— The labour inspection system must be revived as its abolition has gravely undermined the implementation of labour laws.

— No management councils/committees can achieve good results unless half of their members are drawn from workers.

— The provision that allows a trade union to have 25 per cent of its office-bearers from outside the industrial unit’s workforce needs to be streamlined. The interpretation that such office-bearers should be on some units’ payroll is liable to abuse. Many retired and dismissed workers are excellent trade unionists and labour should not be deprived of their services.

— The provisions that facilitate extermination of a union need to be revised. For instance, the condition that a union is liable to disbandment if any of its office-bearers is found guilty of defalcation is absurd (think of a cabinet in a similar situation). The condition that if a union’s strength falls below 20 per cent of its original membership it will stand automatically dissolved needs to be looked into.

— The right to apply for a referendum that is at present allowed to government and the employers should be available to a trade union and the condition of signatures of 20 per cent workers for this should go.

These demands are not excessive nor are they otherwise controversial. The government will indict itself for lack of good sense of it fritters away the present opportunity of promoting legislation through stakeholders’ consensus. If there still are points that need to be reviewed or refined this should be possible during debates in parliament. The proposed law should be thoroughly debated. One of the grounds for criticism of IRA 2008 has been the fact that the National Assembly adopted the bill while the opposition was out. The new law should not suffer from any such deficiency.

While criticising Pakistan for its failure to respect the ILO conventions it has ratified the world labour organisation has repeatedly offered help for the realisation of mutually desired standards. Everything possible may be done to benefit from ILO’s generous offers.

We will once again be told that progress or reform cannot be guaranteed by laws alone and that much depends on how a state develops plans for action and implements them through effective mechanisms and efficient policymaking. Is it too much to expect that these matters will be duly addressed in the policy announcement the prime minister has promised to make day after tomorrow (May Day)?

Source: Dawn, 29 Apr, 2010

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  • Pakistani workers’ conditions similar to 1886 Chicago labourers

    * WWO ED says working women ready to sacrifice anything for their rights

    LAHORE: The condition of workers in Pakistan is very similar to that of the labourers of Chicago in 1886, Working Women Organisation (WWO) Executive Director Aima Mehmood said on Friday.
    Aima was addressing a demonstration organised by the WWO outside the Lahore Press Club to commemorate the Labour Day. She said female workers had been demanding less working hours, better pays, permanent jobs and implementation of labour laws. She also said working women in Pakistan were ready to sacrifice anything for their rights just as the rebels of Chicago did.

    Scores of labourers participated in the demonstration and held banners and placards. They demanded the government ensure safety of female workers at the workplace according to the labour policy. The labourers also demanded women workers be given the right to form their own unions and that the already existing organisations ensure proper representation to females. They were of the view that labour laws should also incorporate the informal industry, agriculture, kiln and construction workers. Moreover, they said the labour department and labour courts should be made effective with their performance evaluated on international standards. They also demanded social security and legal protection for labourers. The speakers lauded the writing off of the Service Tribunal Ordinance 2002 and urged the government to resume labour inspection. They said the government should set the minimum wage in line with the inflation rate and ensure its effective implementation. They also said the government should educate working women and arrange small loans for them. Prominent personalities who addressed the gathering included Salma Liaqat, Nabeela Gulzar, Shumaila Taj, Tasneem Ijaz among others.

    Origins of Labour Day: Labour Day originated after the labour movement of the US on May 1, 1886. Certain labour organisations in the country protested demanding an eight-hour working day instead of 10, 12 or 14 prevalent at that time. There was carnage in the Haymarket Square in Chicago on May 4 as a rebel threw a bomb into the area, which killed nearly 12 people, including a few police officers. About 100 people were injured.

    The rebels did not find an urgent result but gained a success gradually. When the demand for an eight-hour working day was met, it became a standard in many countries around the world. staff report\story_1-5-2010_pg13_5

    Recognition of female peasants, farm workers rights’ demanded

    * Female peasants demand provision of basic rights, say women being paid less than men
    * Khalida Mansoor says sustainable development impossible without making agriculture, farmers priority
    * Sajida Mir demands representation of female farm workers in legislative assemblies

    LAHORE: The rights of female peasants and farm workers should be recognised at the government and societal level, speakers at a seminar stressed on Friday.
    The seminar titled “A Tribute to the Struggle of Female Farmers and Farm Workers” was organised by the South Asia Partnership-Pakistan (SAP-PK) to commemorate Labour Day.

    Two female peasants addressed the occasion and narrated the dismal situation that peasants, especially females, were facing. They said the state was not treating peasants fairly. “We can’t think of our rights and basic necessities in the current conditions, for we are not even able to feed ourselves and our children despite working for long hours in such difficult conditions,” they said. They said they were being paid less than their male colleagues. The speakers demanded peasants and rural workers be recognised as labourers and protected under labour laws.

    Prioritising: MNA Khalida Mansoor said female farmers had always been ignored by successive governments, adding the dream of sustainable development could not be achieved without considering agriculture and farmers a priority. “Female farmers should be given due status. Agricultural products should be provided through cooperative societies at union council level,” she added.

    MPA Sajida Mir said the government should not only recognise female peasant and farm workers, but also highlight their problems. She criticised the Punjab government’s decision to distribute government land only among male agricultural graduates. She also demanded representation of female farm workers in the legislative assemblies. Addressing the occasion, Muhammad Tehseen, the SAP executive director, said identifying the problems of female peasants and farm workers was important, however “we must pay tribute to our female farmers who, in such harsh conditions, were contributing to the economy”.

    Recognition: He said peasants and rural workers must be recognised as labourers and their crops insured. He also stressed on providing them basic rights such as education, shelter, health and clean drinking water.

    Rubina Jamil of the Working Women Organisation said female workers were facing discrimination in terms of wages, adding female kiln workers were suffering the most. “These women are treated like slaves,” she added. She also lauded the achievement of civil society organisations for the realisation of labourers’ rights.

    Samina Nazir from an organisation of Potohar region said girls were not even allowed to choose agriculture as a subject at schools in her area. Amna Bano, a female farmer from Faisalabad, said the rising prices of agricultural products such as fertilisers, pesticides and irrigating water, had made the farmers’ lives miserable. She said female farmers in her area were paid half the amount paid to male workers.

    Aqeela Naz of the Anjuman Muzarin Punjab said no agricultural policy had been formulated considering the interests of small farmers. She demanded state land be distributed among female farmers instead of being given to multinational corporations and influential foreigners. staff report

    Daily Times, 1 May 2010

  • May Day under the PPP

    Saturday, May 01, 2010
    Farooq Sulehria

    Workers in Pakistan face great challenges as they greet May Day today, even as a party born of mass struggle is in power for the fourth time. May Day had been declared a public holiday by the first PPP government in 1972 when it introduced working-class reforms. The other two PPP governments proved distinctly anti-working class, but the present leadership of the party does not even bother to pay lip service to trade unions and workers’ concerns.

    Two years ago, Prime Minister Gilani announced a minimum wage of Rs6,000, but nothing has been done yet to ensure this legal minimum wage is paid. Roughly, over 70 per cent of industrial units refuse to do this.

    On Dec 14, 2008, the government replaced Musharraf’s Industrial Relations Ordinance (IRO), 2002, with an even more anti-workers Industrial Relations Act (IRA). There are almost two dozen sections in the IRA (soon to be replaced by IRA 2010 after its expiry on April 20) that are criticised by leaders of the trade unions.

    In a country where only five-to-seven per cent of workers are unionised (or almost 2.2 million, in a workforce of 45 million), IRA 2008 provided legal cover to cancellation of the registration of a trade union and dismiss its leadership in case of “illegal strikes” by the union.

    Back in 2004, the same PPP had proclaimed that “all workers shall have the right to participate in elections to reserved seats for workers and peasants and to carry out duties as elected representatives on all such seats, at the district, provincial and federal levels, without penalty, hindrance or discouragement by employers.”

    IRA 2008 was a clear regression from IRO 2002.

    Unlike in Britain, or Sweden, the trade union movement in Pakistan has not been able to unite under one umbrella. The Pakistan Workers’ Confederation (PWC) had been a step in that direction, but it failed to become an organisation like the British Trade Union Congress, or Sweden’s LO. It had therefore been a welcome development when the IRO required that every union affiliate with a federation. At the same time, at least ten unions–one from every province–were required to form a federation. Now, even two unions can join hands to form a “federation.” At the same time, unions’ registration process has been made more complicated.

    Under the Industrial Relations Ordinance of 1969, an employer could be fined as well as imprisoned for violating labour laws. In IRA 2008, the imprisonment provision has been quashed.

    Another controversial clause in IRA 2008 is the reduction of the term of the collective bargaining agent (CBA). It has been reduced from three years to two. The Karachi Shipyard workers, denied trade union rights under Musharraf’s dictatorship, still await the restoration of their constitutional rights.

    As for the PML-N, while the Sharif brothers keep cursing the Musharraf regime, they are not ready to lift the ban on labour inspections imposed in Punjab. In March 2009, workers at Hamza Board Mills in Toba Tek Singh owned by the Sharif family had to go on strike when their demand for a minimum wage were not met.

    Already, workers in government service (such as clerks, teachers, paramedical staff), the agriculture sector, and in charitable institutions (including NGOs and religious organisations) are forbidden to form unions, just as are those in the armed forces.

    Although an elected government should not be compared with a military regime in any way, it is hard to ignore the continuity in the economic policies of the governments of the PPP and Musharraf. Privatisation is the hallmark of the neo-liberal policies followed both by Shaukat Aziz and Gilani.

    The PPP government plans to privatise eight major public-sector establishments. What is seen as the first step towards this, the federal government recently announced to bring people from the private sector as members of the boards of directors in eight major publics-sector organisations, which include PIA, Pakistan Steel, PASSCO, Pakistan Railways, the Utility Stores Corporation and the National Highways Authority.

    Privatisation leaves a direct and negative impact on the working class. At least 600,000 workers have lost their jobs due to privatisation in the last 15 years. Most of the privatised factories practice the contract system, with no respect for labour laws.

    Nevertheless, while the privatisation process has come to a halt, there is an upsurge in the labour movement.

    The PPP government had to withdraw its announced decision to privatise the Qadirpur gas fields in view of workers’ protests. More and more workers are coming together to form unions. Peasants at the Okara military farms remain defiant. Textile workers in Faisalabad, organised by the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM), have re-established militant traditions once witnessed in the city (then called Lyallpur) in the 1970s. The LQM has gone a step further, with its chairman, Mian Qayyum, contesting the upcoming by-elections in Faisalabad’s constituency PP-63.

    Demonstrations against contract labour, privatisation and manifestations for winning shorter working hours, better wages, social security and, above all, dignity of labour, have become a daily occurrence across Pakistan at factory floors.

    Elsewhere in the world, Greece, Turkey and Portugal have recently seen mass strikes. The Red Shirts in Thailand have made front-page headlines. Even workers in Iran have begun to assert themselves. In Bolivia, neo-liberal myths have been successfully challenged by the nationalisation drive in the South American country. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez, whose “Socialism for the 21st Century” has inspired an entire continent, has called for a Fifth International. In Africa, workers from Cairo to Cape Town are back on the streets.

    Despite the difficulties, therefore, Pakistani workers have good reason to celebrate May Day.

    The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: