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Pakistan: National Conference on ’Labour Rights as Citizen Rights: Realising Constitutional Reforms’

29 May 2011

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Press Release

National Conference on ‘Labour Rights as Citizen Rights: Realising Constitutional Reforms’

Islamabad (28 May, 2011): The two-day conference on ‘Labour Rights as Citizen Rights: Realising Constitutional Reforms’ concluded here in Islamabad. The Conference was organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, Sungi Development Foundation, and Muttahida Labour Federation. The purpose of the conference was to share labour’s concerns and initiate debate on issues related to labour in the backdrop of the 18th Amendment which has set the grounds for provincial autonomy and devolution.

The second and concluding day of the Conference moved with the commitment to make use of constitutional reforms and a post devolution order to deliver on rights of workers of the sectors (agriculture, fisheries, home-based, and others) that are excluded from the ambit of labour legislation. This also includes the unemployed and socially marginalised.
Speakers in the two days’ conference included Ameer Nawab, Minister for Labour, Sindh; Moulvi Ghulam Sarwar, Minister for Labour, Balochsitan; Ahsanuddin, Minister for Labour, Punjab; Saba Gul Khattak, Member Planning Commission of Pakistan; Zafarullah Khan, Centre for Civic Education; Karamat Ali, Executive Director PILER; Gul Rehman, President Muttahida Labour Federation; Chaudhry Manzoor, President Peoples’ Labour Federation; Javed Gill, Central Labour Advisor, Ministry of Labour; Zafar Iqbal Gondal, Chairman EOBI; Fareed Awan, Pakistan Workers Confederation; Haji Jawed, President Employers Federation of Pakistan, Saeed Awan from Punjab’s Centre for Improvement of Working Conditions and Environment.

The conference highlighted key issues related to labour including structures of labour policy and legislation; regulations and mechanisms to ensure compliance of labour laws with constitutional rights and international conventions; the future of social security and welfare bodies; addressing exclusion of the majority of labour from labour laws and poor implementation of a number of labour laws such as labour inspection, IRA, tripartite mechanism, minimum wages, etc. It was decided that recommendations would be drawn on the basis of observations and suggestions made on these issues.

Participants supported devolution and called for efforts to ensure implementation of the constitutional reforms. The participants noted that there is need to work on broadening the ambit of legislation and implementation for workers excluded from the system by way of institutional deficits or restricted labour laws. It was also emphasised that the state’s disinclination to deliver on social services has not only comprised people’s constitutional rights; it has also resulted in extremely restricted scope for people’s health, education, well being, and future. Representatives of workers involved in informal sector highlighted the insecure and compromised state of working conditions in fisheries, agriculture, home-based, domestic and power looms sectors. They said that state’s neglect of workers in informal sector has left over 70% of workers out of the ambit of labour laws, while exploitation and abuse of rights remain rampant.

While drawing recommendations, participants agreed that the framework and basis of all laws and institutions should be according to ILO conventions and principles, and UN Covenant on Economic and Social Rights. Key recommendations developed by way of tripartite-basis group work followed by extensive consultation, included:

1. Right to unionisation should be unconditional. All workers, including agriculture, home-based workers, fisherfolk, domestic workers, and self-employed workers should have an unconditional right to unionisation.

2. The ambit of social protection coverage should be extended to allow universal social security. It was suggested that social security institutions should be merged whether their institutional mechanisms remain with provinces or with the federal government. All social protection services should be delivered by a single institution through a simplified universal card system.

3. Labour Courts need reforms. There is a need to increase the number of labour courts and cases should be disposed off in three months time period.

4. Unemployment allowance should be paid to the unemployed. The state should devise a programme along the lines of 100 days employment service, on the basis of which employment should be guaranteed to each and every unemployed person on a hundred-day basis.

5. It was demanded that no laws and institutions violating the ILO Conventions ratified by Pakistan should be pursued. The House also demanded that ILO Convention 177 on Home-Based Workers be ratified.

6. The recommendations also suggested that minimum wage, regular wage, and pensions should be tied to inflation. Minimum wage for unskilled workers should be increased annually and the raise calculated on the basis of inflation and other relevant economic indicators.

7. Participants urged that ILO Convention 11 covering the agriculture sector be immediately implemented. Other ILO Conventions related to agriculture too need to be ratified.

8. It was demanded that mines and quarries workers should be entitled to social security in all four provinces.

It was also decided that a series of consultations would be held across provinces to pursue these recommendations and initiate debate on strengthening institutional mechanisms for development and implementation of labour rights frameworks on a provincial basis in the post-devolution order. These recommendations will also be shared by a tripartite commission in the upcoming ILO Conference in June this year.