Under the 1973 Constitution labour is defined as a ‘concurrent subject’ making liable for implementation both the Federal and Provincial Governments.
The Industrial Relations Ordinance makes provision for the appointment of a Collective Bargaining Agent (CBA) to determine the representative character of the trade union in industrial disputes and to obtain representation on committees, boards and commissions.
There are several other provisions in the Constitution of Pakistan with regards to labour rights found in Part II protecting the Fundamental Rights such as Article 11 prohibits all forms of slavery, forced labour and child labour; Article 17 provides for freedom of association and the right to form unions; Article 18 proscribes the right of its citizens to enter upon any lawful profession or occupation and to conduct any lawful trade or business; Article 25 lays down the right to equality before the law and prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sex alone; and Article 37(e) makes provision for securing just and humane conditions of work.
The protection of civil rights and policies has apparently improved in papers after coming into power the present regime after restoration of “democracy”, but practically still falls far short of the standards of a democracy rather the conditions of the labour unions have been badly deteriorated.
On the one hand even most of the corrupt CEOs of the state enterprises strongly resist the unionisation of their employees and the managements resort to intimidation, dismissal and blacklisting against the real unions simultaneously patronising the “Pocket Unions” to achieve their personal objectives; what to say about private enterprises, on the other hand Poverty has continued to rise which has further worsened the living conditions of workers class.
In the recent years, hundreds of trade union leaders have been dismissed from the Banks and other institutions. Merely on complaint of workers regarding violation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Companies, The Unilever dismissed 287 of the 292 temporary employees at the factory after the union’s announcement that it would be allowing temporary workers to join it and would help them obtain permanent employee status, leader of the National Trade Union Federation along with three others were arrested on allegedly false charges of robbery probably brought by the owner of Interwood, The workers of PTCL remained protesting and staging a sit-in at PTCL Headquarter, Islamabad on the issue of the fulfillment of the commitments made to them by the management but their protest was brutally suppressed jointly by the state and management of the PTCL.
Many leaders of the union of Pearl Continental Hotel in Karachi have been sacked, threatened, harassed and imprisoned. On 29 July, sacked union leaders and other dismissed workers were assaulted by the police when holding a peaceful protest in front of the hotel, Workers protesting for their rights were fired at the Badin Army Sugar Mills in Badin many being injured and having to receive hospital treatment, PUT Sarajevo General Engineering Company, sacked all the leaders and 32 other members of the Awami Labour Union on 24 July, after the union had put forward a series of demands regarding the application of legislation. The company also brought in the police to deal with the protesting workers. A case was filed bu Punjab Police against 1300 workers and 30 belonging to LQM, an organisation of textile workers were arrested on fake charges of attempted murder and kidnapping.
Workers at the Pak Arab Refinery were summarily dismissed, Representatives of CBA union of Zarai Taraqiati Bank were sacked by the management for their “non-cooperative” attitude.
The only fault on their part was that they had filed a complaint to the Prime Minister against illegal, politically motivated and out of merit recruitment on top ranking positions of dozens of retired army and police officers, and some others removed from different departments who did not have even a single day experience of developmental banking. In addition thousands of others were appointed in Grade-I to Grade-III and on lower grades without any merit.
Not only the union representatives were dismissed from service without any tangible ground but the President of the Bank used his influence to get their appeals dismissed in the Federal Service Tribunal. Now their children are constrained to cease their education and also suffering from starvations. The General Secretary of the Pakistan Workers Federation in the region, Haji Muhammad Ramzan Achakzai, was also detained on criminal charges for supporting the mineworkers as well as later being involved in the cases of 250 dismissed Merck employees in Quetta.
These are merely a few examples of destitution of workers class. Such instances had not been seen even during dictator’s regime. The NGOs working in Human Rights as well as media are also silent and they have not acted promptly and effectively against these gross violations of Fundamental Rights, the NGOs on Human Rights risks in particular becoming irrelevant.
It was of paramount necessity to uphold human rights and denounce violations wherever they occurred. But instead, time and time again, the NGOs have behaved in a highly fractious, self-interested, politically expedient manner, turning a blind eye to human rights violations and allowing perpetrators to operate with impunity. NGOs, media and civil society should come forward to become a wall against these grave violations of Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the constitution. We should remember working class is backbone of the economy of Pakistan.