May 25 - 31, 2009

It was hardly three or four months after this government took the reins of Pakistan that labour wing of the ruling party started to unravel plans to canvass for introducing legislations to protect rights of the labour. However, contrary to the general impression that present government known for its drawing support from the labour class would purify the prevailing labour system of widely abhorred reminiscences of autocratic dispensations to rejuvenate working status of underprivileged workforce, the government is yet to bolster comprehensive action plan to ensuring establishment of sustainable legislative and administrative reforms that run on self-help basis towards implementation of labour laws without being halted operationally in years to come.

First in this line, government planned to announce labour policy covering broadly relations of employees and employers, but for reasons unknown, it refrained from revising Labour Act 2008 to make it part of new labour policy, that has really been an awaited document in circles struggling for the labour rights in the country. Though, experts raise a relevant question about the chances of applicability of laws however comprehensive, saying legislations are effective when they are enjoined by administration and disinterested enforcements. Otherwise, they are no more than conventions on downtime in statutory book. This valid observation is followed by another question if is there a need of devising new labour policy or have not hitherto five policies laid down framework under which constitutional labour rights are guaranteed?

To many haranguers of labour rights in Pakistan, laws protecting social security of labours are unfortunately having slight impact on improving working conditions. Therefore, they are outspoken in their demands of formulation of new labour policy and subsequent labour laws. Recently, government has disclosed its intention to revise Labour Act 2008 and insert amendments to design comprehensive labour policy in order to do away irregularities that restrict disbursements of predefined privileges to workers as well as to increase participation of workforce in driving economic growth.

However, it is also beyond understanding that when the Constitution of Pakistan has enshrined candidly what constitute rights of workers then why exploitation of labourers is perpetrated in many of the organizational structures in the country. The article 38 of the Constitution of Pakistan enshrines basic social rights of all citizens to get financial supports from the state in case of their inability to fulfil basic necessities of life. Clearly it states, "The State should provide for all citizens facilities for work and adequate livelihood with reasonable rest and leisure".

The blatant violations are in practice in many organizations when workers are utilized without a predefined working hours span, deliberately left unaware of their fundamental employment rights, less paid and not compensated duly against their services. Seeing commonly in private sector organizations, these violations of basic human rights at best have compensation structure manipulated according to personal desires of owners. The minimum pay scale is though in accordance with the law, either workers are paid less than their services or ignorant of their rights.

After-retirement benefits are missing in private sector organizations. On-job rights are flouted brazenly by not providing social security, insurance against uncertainty to workers. In some working environment where there is a high risk to human health due to hazardous process, rarely proper arrangements are made to prevent any untoward situation or measures to stave off industrial accidents. A recent accident is cited as an example in which a boiler ruptured and killed and injured workers in a company situated in an industrial area in Karachi. It was just a case there were many more such mishaps that could have been avoided by exercising certain possible precautions.

Thoroughly, labour policy deals with other subjects and first of all focuses on exploration of sectors that generate employment. It is a matter of concern that there is no comprehensive labour policy dealing with the subject. Driving economic activities by upgrading workforce in terms of education is also a subject of labour policy. This task has become important in the present context in which unemployment is mounting as noticeably as working age population. According to a calculation, there were over 100 million working age people in Pakistan two years back. The same estimate revealed that labour force participation (LFP) in Pakistan was lowest than that in South Asian region. Within country, LFP was high in Punjab (32%), followed by Sindh (30%), Balochistan (29%), and NWFP (26%). New labour policy and subsequent amendments in labour laws is need of the day, but it must include private sector diametrically in jurisdiction. It should invent framework to enforce legislations in both private and public sector companies.

First labour policy was prepared in 1955, followed by one in 1959, 1969, 1972, and 2002 while five other draft policies have been designed so far. However, the critics are of the view that no policy has been effective enough to ensure labour rights in accordance with the conventions of international labour organization to which Pakistan ratifies as a signatory. Under Industrial Relation Act 2008, the government has taken various steps to remove grievances of workforce. Besides creation of new jobs, regularization of government employees thereby evaluating of job performance for example under four-tier promotion formula, and entitling them with future securing facilities are undoubtedly indicative of steps towards positive direction, but private sector workforce seems to be out of range of legislative dispensations.