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Pakistan Elections 2013: Labour Rights and Land Reforms Not on the Agenda of Political Parties - selected press reports

29 April 2013

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Daily Times - 27 April 2013

Majority political parties neglect labour issues in manifesto

Staff Report

KARACHI: Except for National Party, led by Mir Hasil Bizenjo, no other political party has given adequate attention to labour related issues or to land reforms in their Election 2013 Manifestoes.

Civil society activists Dr Kaiser Bengali, Nasir Mansoor, Riaz Abbasi and others made these comments while addressing a press conference held at the Karachi Press Club here on Friday.

According to them, the political parties have ignored workers and peasants while allocating party tickets for contesting polls. According to a news report, there are about 28 candidates in the election contest who have declared themselves as belonging to working classes. Rest of the candidates of political parties either come from the traditional landlords or the business and trader community.

They opined that all political parties have tried to maintain the status quo and none is ready to make any changes on the economic, social and political fronts, or indicate a redistribution of resources and eliminate the concentration of wealth in the society. Similarly, social sector reforms have not been given any consideration. The agenda on basic services such as education, health and social security is devoid of any innovation and imagination, treating these as charity items to be doled out to public as a favour.

The civil society leaders said that no political party speaks in terms of the rights of the people. All political parties have made tall claims of working for the poor, but they have not explicitly given a programme on how they plan to do so. Unemployment is the single most serious problem for the people, but no political party has detailed on how they will tackle with this problem. The horrendous factory fires in Karachi and Lahore have demonstrated to what extent workers rights and interests have been compromised, but no political party is prepared to say a word about it.

According to them, over the years, the governments have introduced contract labour system that has outsourced workers’ job security to a third party, which is not accountable for its actions. Today, there is no trade union in the banking and financial sector, and workers have no right to bargain in other privatised corporations like sugar, cement, cooking oil-ghee and other commercial organisations and industries. Less than three percent of the total workforce is unionised and the absence of trade unions has not only weakened the bargaining position of the workers, it has allowed a free for all exploitation and marginalisation of the working class. The very concept of the rights of the working class has been eroded and working journalists are victims too. But this does not seem to be the concern of the political parties, which have said nothing about restoration and empowerment of trade unions or of the rights of the working class.

They termed it rather unfortunate that no party has taken a position on the structural adjustment policies introduced from the late 1980s as an agenda of the international financial institutions. These neo-liberal policies have killed the very concept of rights of the people from the policy framework of the state. Trade unions have been suppressed since long, particularly since the 1980s and more nails have been added to their coffin in the last five years. The Punjab Industrial Relations Act 2010 is a gross violation of Article 17 (Right to Freedom of Association) of the Constitution. It denies the right to form unions to all organisations with fewer than 50 workers, which actually makes a majority of establishments in the province. Other provinces continued with the text of the exclusionary IRA 2008, which followed its earlier models in selective implementation of the fundamental right to freedom of association.

Claiming there is an urgent need to break with the neo-liberal agenda in order to serve the interests of the people, instead that of the propertied class and foreign investors, they said, it is a pity that all major parties have supported privatisation and claim to pursue policies to attract foreign direct investment in the country. Privatisation has been at the root of unemployment, underemployment and inequality in the country, as seen in the case of the banking sector, KESC, and PTCL; which resulted in job loss as well as marginalisation and exploitation of workers.

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Dawn - 27 April 2013

’Parties ignored labour, land reform issues in manifestos’

Only about 28 candidates contesting in the elections declared themselves as belonging to the working class, according to civil society activists.

KARACHI: Civil society leaders, including Dr Kaiser Bengali, Karamat Ali, Nasir Mansoor and Riaz Abbasi, have said that all major political parties have given inadequate attention to labour and land reform issues in their election 2013 manifestos. Addressing a press conference at the Karachi Press Club, they said that political parties had ignored workers and peasants while allocating party tickets for contesting polls.There were only about 28 candidates contesting in the elections who declared themselves as belonging to the working class, they added.They claimed that the political parties had tried to maintain the status quo and none of them were ready to make any change on the economic, social and political fronts or pledged to carry out the redistribution of resources and eliminate the concentration of wealth in the society.“No political party speaks in terms of the rights to the people. All political parties have made tall claims for working for the poor, but they have not explicitly given a programme on how they plan to do it,” they said.“Unemployment is the single most serious problem for the people, but no political party has said how they will tackle this problem. The horrendous factory fires in Karachi and Lahore have demonstrated to what extent workers’ rights and interests have been compromised, but no political party is prepared to say a word about it.”They said that over the years governments had introduced contract labour system that had outsourced workers’ job security to third party, which was not accountable for its actions. Today there was no trade union in the banking and financial sector while workers had no right to bargain in other private corporations and industries like sugar, cement, cooking oil/ghee and other commercial organisations and industries, they added.“Less than three per cent of the total workforce is unionised and the absence of trade unions has not only weakened the bargaining power of workers, it has also allowed a free-for-all exploitation and marginalisation of the working class,” the said.They said trade unions had been suppressed for a long time particularly since 1980s and the situation had aggravated over the past five years.“The Punjab Industrial Relations Act 2010 is a gross violation of the Article 17 (Right to Freedom of Association) of the Constitution. It denies the right to form unions to all organisations with fewer than 50 workers, which actually makes a majority of establishments in the province. Other provinces continued with the text of the exclusionary IRA 2008 which followed its earlier models in selective implementation of fundamental rights to freedom of association,” they said.The civil society leaders said that the privatisation had been at the root of unemployment, underemployment and inequality in the country as had been seen in the cases of privatisations of the banking sector, the KESC, and the PTCL, that resulted in job cuts as well as marginalisation and exploitation of workers.They added that it’s on record that foreign investors earned their revenue in rupees and remit their profits in dollars to their countries, thereby causing a loss of foreign exchange to the country.“Take the example of the KESC; it gets huge subsidies from the government to maintain the planned profit level as part of a privatisation agreement with the government. Yet one sees very little investment in its production capacity to provide electricity to the people,” they said.“This has resulted in massive losses to industries and further job cuts for the workers. Privatisation has relieved the state of its responsibility to care for the well-being of its citizens and caused much damage to the cause of the workers. Against this backdrop, our political parties’ eagerness to pursue privatisation as a solution for progress and development is deplorable,” they added.They said that the subject of land reforms had also been completely ignored by the political parties.“A majority of Pakistanis in rural and urban areas own no land while 93 per cent of farmers own less than four hectares of land.
The low level of income in the agricultural sector is much less than the minimum wage set by the government. It fails to provide for decent living incorporating food, shelter and basic necessities. Malnutrition stands as a stark everyday reality since over half of the population is food insecure, with around 10 per cent battling with sever hunger. The agriculture labour force is employed on informal arrangements, exempting it from the application of labour laws. Yet, no political party has any programme for the right to hold assets for a population that comprises 45 per cent of the labour force.”They said that the outgoing provincial assembly of Sindh had further eroded the rights of rural working class by incorporating controversial amendments to the Sindh Tenancy Act of 1950, making bonded labour legal.No countermeasure of these anti-labour laws had been proposed by any political party, including those that were not part of the last government, the civil society leaders said.They asked the political parties to clearly spell out their programmes regarding labourers and peasants.“They must have a clear-cut policy on how they will tackle the unemployment problem in Pakistan. How will they address inequality without land distribution? What are their policies for the revival of the economy along the lines of inclusiveness and participation?”The civil society leaders appealed to all to vote only for those who make a commitment to addressing the basic issues of workers.

- PPI

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The News International

Labour rights, land reforms ignored by all parties: Piler

News Desk
Saturday, April 27, 2013

Karachi

After going through the election manifestos of all major political parties of the country, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) has declared that none of the parties has given adequate attention to labour issues and land reforms.

The political parties have ignored workers and peasants while allocating party tickets for contesting polls. Only 28 election candidates belong to the working class and all the other candidates of political parties either come from the traditional landlord families or the business community. “Elections have become a domain of the elites with those from modest backgrounds unable to access the system,” read the statement issued from Piler.

All political parties have tried to maintain the status quo and no one is ready to make any changes on the economic, social and political fronts, or indicate redistribution of resources and eliminate the concentration of wealth in the society. Social sector reforms have also not been given any consideration. The agenda on basic services such as education, health and social security is devoid of any innovation and imagination, treating them as charity to be doled out to public as a favour.

No political party speaks in terms of the rights of the people. All political parties have made tall claims for working for the poor but they have not explicitly given any direction on how they plan to do it. Unemployment is the single most serious problem for the people but no political party has described how they will tackle with the problem. The horrendous factory fires in Karachi and Lahore have demonstrated to what extent workers’ rights and interests have been compromised but no political party is prepared to say a word about it.

Over the years, the governments have introduced contract labour system that has outsourced workers’ job security to a third party, which is not even accountable for its actions. There are no trade unions in the banking and financial sectors and workers have no rights to bargain in other privatised corporations like sugar, cement, cooking oil and other commercial organisations and industries. Less than three percent of the total workforce is unionised and the absence of trade unions has not only weakened the bargaining position of the workers, it has also allowed free-for-all exploitation and marginalisation of the working class.

The very concept of rights of the working class has been eroded and working journalists are victims too. But this doesn’t seem to be the concern of the political parties that have said nothing about restoration and empowerment of trade unions or of the rights of the working class.

No party has taken a position on the structural adjustment policies introduced from the late 1980s as an agenda of the international financial institutions. These neo-liberal policies have killed the very concept of rights of the people from the policy framework of the state. Trade unions have been suppressed since long, particularly since the 1980s.

The Punjab Industrial Relations Act, 2010 is a gross violation of Article 17 (Right to Freedom of Association) of the constitution. It denies the right to form unions to all organisations with fewer than 50 workers, which actually makes a majority of establishments in the province. Other provinces continued with the text of the exclusionary IRA, 2008, which followed its earlier models in selective implementation of the fundamental right to freedom of association.

The not-for-profit organisation claims there is an urgent need to break the “neo-liberal agenda” in order to serve the interests of the people instead of the propertied class and foreign investors.

All major parties have supported privatisation and claim to pursue policies to attract foreign direct investment in the country.

Foreign investors earn their revenues in rupees and remit their profits in dollars; thereby, causing a drain of foreign exchange. If KESC can be taken as example, it is extracting huge subsidies from the government to maintain the planned profit level as part of the privatisation agreement with the government. Yet one sees very little investment in its production capacity to provide electricity to the people. This has resulted in massive losses to industries and further job losses for the workers.

Privatisation has relieved the state of its responsibility to care for the wellbeing of its citizens and caused much damage to the cause of the workers. In the backdrop of these realities, the political parties’ eagerness in pursuing privatisation as a solution for progress and development is deplorable.

Land reforms ignored

The subject of land reforms has also been completely ignored. Majority of Pakistanis, rural and urban, own no land whereas 93 percent farmers own less than four hectares of land. The low level of income in the agricultural sector (Rs 5,649) is much lesser than the minimum wage set by the government.

The earnings fail to provide a decent living incorporating food, shelter and basic necessities. Malnutrition is a stark reality since over half the population is food insecure, with around 10 percent battling with severe hunger. The agriculture labour force is employed on informal arrangements, exempting it from the application of labour laws. Yet no political parties have any programme for the population that comprises 45 percent of the labour force.

The Sindh Assembly has further eroded the rights of the rural working class by incorporating controversial amendments in the Sindh Tenancy Act, 1950, making free labour legal. No political party has redressed these anti-labour laws.

Piler demanded the parties running for the elections clearly spell out their programmes and chalk out a clear-cut policy on how they would tackle unemployment. How will the parties address inequality without land distribution? What are their policies for the revival of the economy along the lines of inclusiveness and participation?

Senior economist Dr Kaiser Bengali, Piler Executive Director Karamat Ali and labour leader Nawab Ali spoke at the meeting.

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