Lahore, January 7: A meeting of representatives of trade unions organized by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has deplored the lack of regard for labour rights and international conventions while adopting new labour laws following the transfer of the subject to the provinces under the 18th Amendment.
The labour representatives took exception to the provision of the 18th Amendment that abolished the system of labour legislation at the national level, a provision they have already challenged in the Supreme Court. National legislation was necessary, they said, to facilitate workers’ organisations on the national scale. They said that several provisions of the new Punjab Industrial Relations Act 2010 were in conflict with the country’s international obligations under International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions and the recently ratified International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). They deplored the fact that the rights available to the workers even in the colonial era before Pakistan’s creation had been curtailed or abolished by the new law.
The meeting expressed hope that the Punjab government will not be happy at lagging behind other provinces in respecting workers’ rights. The meeting noted with concern that workers in major public sector enterprises were not consulted before crucial decisions that had a bearing on the terms and existence of their employment and viability of the organizations that employed them.
The following recommendations were jointly endorsed by the trade union leaders and HRCP:
· The meeting expressed surprise that the National Industrial Relations Commission (NIRC) had chosen to curtail its tenure. There is an urgent need to clarify the position of all-Pakistan trade unions registered before the 18th Amendment came into force. Law and equity demand that such bodies should be allowed to continue.
· Section 3 (1) of the Punjab Industrial Relations Act 2010, which abolishes the workers’ right to form a union in an establishment where less than 50 workers are employed, violates ILO Convention 87 and Article 17 (1) of the constitution. This section must be repealed. Workers of around 4,200 brick kiln in Punjab are likely to be excluded from the ambit of the law and from forming lawful unions.
· The new Punjab labour law reduces the number of outsiders in a union’s executive from 25% to 20%. This is contrary to the workers’ right to derive strength from the society wherever a union lacks expertise.
· The appointment of presiding officers of labour courts and tribunals by the provincial government without reference to the High Court will undermine workers’ confidence in labour courts. All appointments to labour courts must be subject to the High Court’s approval.
· The trade unions regret the failure of the Punjab lawmakers to define the role and obligations of ‘contractor’. They also protested against the fact that the law approved by the Punjab Assembly is less friendly to labour than the Ordinance it was asked to debate and turn it into an Act.
· The trade unions regret that the points raised by them at the consultation held by the Punjab government, especially regarding revival of labour inspection system, have not been heeded. There is no hope of due enforcement of the minimum wage in the absence of a system of labour inspection.
· A tripartite mechanism of workers, employers and the government used for resolution of labour disputes has not found a place in the Punjab law. It is a matter of concern that a proposal to that effect by workers and employers prior to the enactment of this law has been ignored. Workers’ councils that had representation both from workers and from employers have also been abolished. Both mechanisms must be restored to give the workers and employers sufficient say in resolving work-related disputes. The meeting demanded that all matters concerning labour must be decided after due consultation with all stakeholders as laid down in ILO Convention 144.
· The meeting agreed that the right to work, to a fair wage and social security are essential for paying due respect to the right to life and called upon all authorities to conform to the ILO conventions and fulfill the state’s obligations to the workers under the recently ratified ICESCR.
· Instead of a collective bargaining agent (CBA), the new law allows the management to deal with workers directly and individually. The meeting expressed concern that this arrangement is bound to undermine workers’ rights and would lead to exploitation.
· Workers have serious concerns that funds for workers’ welfare, such as EOBI, which are now to be handed over to the provinces, are being squandered on excessive salaries and perks for bureaucrats and whatever facilities were available to workers through these funds may diminish as a consequence.
The trade union leaders who attended the consultation included Mr Khurshid Ahmed (general-secretary of Pakistan Workers’ Federation), Mr Khalid Bhatti (president of Progressive Workers Federation), Mr Muhammad Yaqub, Mr Hanif Ramay and Mr Altaf Baloch (Muttahida Labour Federation), Syeda Ghulam Fatima (Bonded Labour Liberation Front), Zulfiqar Sarmadi (Hotel and Restaurants Employees Federation), Shaukat Ali Chaudhry (Pakistan Mazdoor Mahaz), and Yousaf Baloch (National Trade Union Federation).
Dr. Mehdi Hasan