NEW LABOUR POLICY

The policy has fallen short of the expectation of the working class

From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI, 
Islamabad

Oct 14 - 20, 2002

After a long wait of over two decades, the Federal Minister for Labour, Manpower and Overseas Pakistanis, Mr. Owais Ahmad Ghani announced the new Labour policy in Islamabad last week "aimed at creating a better working relationship between the employees and the employers".

Addressing a press conference to explain to the newsmen the salient features of the new policy, Mr. Ghani claimed that it was a balanced policy evolved after a broadbased consultations with all the stakeholders. He hoped that it will serve the cause of both the parties. The main stakeholder, the workers have however expressed their dismay and disappointment over the policy coming after almost 3 decades and providing them no immediate relief in terms of increased wages. "It only announces that wages will be revised after every 3 years", Labour leaders complained.

It is almost after a period of three decades that a new Labour policy has been approved and the most important legislation governing the industrial relations within a country has been revised. The Labour Policy and Industrial Relations Ordinance (IRO) are important milestones in the overall reform agenda of the present government.

The Labour policy 2002 and the Industrial Relations Ordinance have been finalized after evolving consensus through extensive dialogue with all stakeholders including workers, employers, provincial governments and various federal ministries/ divisions. Great impetus for this task was received from the recommendations of the Tripartite Labour Conference held in July last year after a period of 13 years, the minister said.

The main thrust of the present policy is to replace the traditional adversarial relationship with a mutual trust relationship between the employer and employee. Therefore, it focuses on strengthening bilateralism through promotion of social dialogue and supporting bilateral bodies such as Workers Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan.

The role of the government is seen only as a facilitator and regulator.

The highlights of the policy and the action plan are to consolidate and simplify labour laws, human resource development through vocational training, addressing occupational safety and health issues, provision of improved social safety net to workers, and quality education to workers' children, combating child labour and bonded 1abour and inter-ministerial coordination to address the challenge of globalization.

The revision of the IRO 1969 as Industrial Relations Ordinance 2002 is a significant step towards the rationalization and simplification of labour laws envisaged in the agenda of the labour Policy. IRO 2002 has been drafted in the light of input received from all stakeholders most importantly the workers and employers.

The present government committing itself to a balanced 1abour policy, remained stuck up in thrashing out its details in such a manner as to make it acceptable to both the employees and the employers. Since it opted for a tripartite approach, involving the workers, the employers and itself, in shaping a new policy to meet the demands of the fast changing times, the period that elapsed will appear to have been spent in a rewarding effort. For, evolved from near consensus on almost all the contentious issues, the policy now announced, putting an end to worker-management polarisation and replacing it with the unfailing strategy of consultation, has led to what can be rightly described as a balanced regulatory framework basically aimed at country's smooth progress on the road to economic reform and prosperity with all the stakeholders proportionately gaining from it.

The labour policy of the early 1970s formulated in the midst of the most turbulent days in the wake of split of the country, had really failed to yield the desired results to the country's economy. For one thing, the one-sided relief measures for the workers were viewed by the employers as pampering them at their cost. The instantaneous outburst of the workers sentiments on the perceptions of triumph over the employers as evident from the trade unions response to the sweeping nationalization of privately owned enterprises, should explain the discomfiture of the employers which has been bedeviling the worker-employer equation since then, serving as a root cause of the country's economic instability.

Despite successive changes in the government, thereafter, the disillusionment of the employers kept reflecting itself in the overall deterioration of the badly affected units. Later efforts to correct the imbalance started creating widespread disappointment among the workers too. Little wonder, it was soon realized that to ensure stability in the economy, changes in the labour policy had become inevitable. But paying lip sympathy to the employers, successive governments failed to do the needful. As Pakistan now firmly set on the path to a market-led economy, it was faced with an urgent need of incorporating such provisions in its 1abour policy as in vogue in the leading countries of the world.

The policy has, however, certainly fallen short of the expectation of the working class who were expecting some immediate financial relief to compensate them for higher cost of living specially the cost of utilities and transport during the last 3 years. The minimum wage should have been increased to Rs.3000 from Rs.2500 fixed long ago. The disappoint of the working is therefore fully justified on this account.