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Social welfare coverage to six million industrial and agricultural workers

By SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI
Islamabad
Nov ,12 - 18, 2001

The Minister for Labour and Manpower, Omar Asghar Khan at a press conference in Islamabad last week, made public the draft Labour Policy to elicit opinion and feedback of the stakeholders before finalisation. He hoped to enforce the new policy by year end.

Giving salient features of the 16 pages draft Labour Policy, the Minister said that it has been prepared keeping in view the constitutional requirements and ILO Conventions about fundamental rights, rights of association and social protection. The aims and objectives of the draft labour policy include institutional reforms, simplification and consolidation of labour laws, reformation of labour judiciary, extended coverage of laws and welfare measures to the agricultural and informal sectors. It also aims at eradication and rehabilitation of child labour and bonded labour, safe and hygienic working environment, strengthening of healthy and demographic trade unionism and development labour market information system.

Omar Asghar Khan said social welfare coverage would be extended from three point eight million workers and their dependants to six million industrial and agricultural workers dependants. Seventy-four labour laws have been simplified and consolidated into six laws. Labour Appellate Tribunals would be wound up and Labour Courts will be strengthened. Arbitration will be made compulsory in industrial disputes. Measures would be taken to improve the trade union and collective bargaining structure and evolve an effective mechanism for the registration of trade unions. The federations will be rated according to the number of CBA affiliations.

He said tripartite district committees are being set up to ensure implementation of the labour policy. One of the key objective of the labour policy is to provide universal social protection to workers in the formal and informal sectors.

In reply to a question he said the cabinet has approved an action plan to eliminate the child and bonded labour. The success of our efforts in the soccer industry has been recognised at the international level where the child labour has been totally eliminated. The engagement of workers on contract would be discouraged. Another important feature of the labour policy is to improve the role and contribution of women in the labour force and to provide them equal opportunities for employment. He said the mine workers will be covered by employees old age benefit and social security schemes to ensure much needed social protection to mine workers.

The Labour Minister said in the next few weeks the Ministry will receive feedback from various stakeholders and will present final draft to the federal cabinet in December this year for approval. He told mediamen that over the last two years, the government has initiated a comprehensive labour reforms programme.

The Minister said the policy also reflects different articles of the Constitution including fundamental rights, right of associations, social protection, Islamic values of justice besides ILO conventions ratified by Pakistan. He said now international labour standards are becoming more important especially with market access perspectives and added the government has adopted a number of measures to meet the challenges of globalisation. Omar said that government under the policy would extend coverage of labour laws and social welfare measures for benefit of workers.

Before announcing the draft policy, as an interim measure, the government has already amended 7 labour laws with retrospective effect from 1st July, 2001. An announcement to this effect was made by the federal labour minister on 7 October, 2001. Besides these, the West Pakistan Minimum Wages for Unskilled Workers Ordinance, 1969 has also been amended with effect from 1st
August, 2001.

The salient features of these amendments are; increase in the wage ceilings for application of certain laws from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 5,000 and introduction of "Self-assessment scheme" in the Provincial Employees Social Security Ordinance, 1965 and the Employees' Old-Age Benefits Act, 1976. Moreover, the system of employees' share in the monthly contribution payable by the employers, has been revived in the Social Security Ordinance and introduced in the Employees Old-Age Benefits Act for the first time. The employees share in both these laws will be Rs. 20/- per month, per employee.

This is the third time over the last 16 years that the wage ceiling has been revised. In 1985, it was increased from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 1,500 again in 1993 from Rs. 1,500/- to Rs. 3,000 and now from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 5,000. This revision has been necessitated due to inflationary factors and increase in salary of employees in industrial and commercial establishments. The recent increase by 67 per cent in wage ceiling from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 5,000 may appear to be high but is reasonable as it has been carried out after eight years. If this exercise is done by the government gradually after every two or three years, the employers may not feel its impact so much.