Labour and State Institutions

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2014

Labour relations, or industrial relations, refer to a system of governance of interaction between employers, workers and the state. Based on the concepts that set the ground rules for governance of a tricky relationship between two unequal partners — employers and workers — labour relations are worked out under a body of legislation and administrative procedures mediated and implemented by the state. The role of the state is crucial in determining the direction and the policies of labour relations.

Let’s begin with the Labour and Human Resources Department, Sindh which carries out eight tasks related to labour relations (law enforcement, dispute resolution, labour courts, social security, vocational training, facilitation of employment, minimum wage fixation, labour welfare) through seven attached departments. The Directorate of Labour is one of the seven departments and is entrusted with the tasks of trade union registration, determination of collective bargaining agents, settlement of industrial disputes and enforcement of labour laws.

The factor that undermines the performance of the labour directorate the most is political interference. According to a source, Grade 8-15 staff is appointed on recommendations. Only grade 16-17 officers are selected through standard procedure by the Sindh Public Service Commission but again, their postings and transfers are determined by politics. This demoralises the personnel who have the capacity to work.

Nepotism wipes out accountability and kills work ethics, for the person thus appointed knows whether he works or not he would remain on the payroll. The labour department’s functions are also obstructed by unethical power play of the higher state functionaries. As reported in the media in September 2012, the Sindh labour minister resigned in protest when the then chief minister ordered him to stop inspection of the factories.

In this regard, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has achieved a feat: it has strictly disallowed political intervention in any matters of the labour department where, as a result, things are said to be changing for the better. In Punjab, the labour department performs better than the other three provinces. That, according to one source in the Sindh labour department, is because “higher-ups [in Punjab] want work to be done. The chief minister acts as facilitator. In Sindh, it is money they are after.” Balochistan is the poorest in performance because, says the same source, “It simply copies the Sindh department.”

It has been noted that the nature of the relationships among organised labour, employers and the government with respect to health and safety is indicative of the overall status of industrial relations in a country. The labour inspection system in Pakistan, never strong in the first place, suffered further decline after the Punjab Industrial Policy 2003 stopped physical inspection in the province. Sindh, though it did not come up with a specific notification, adopted the same course and the labour inspection system crumbled. Till today there is no sign of recovery.

In Pakistan, no specific qualification is required for a labour inspection officer (hired at Grade 16-17) beyond a Bachelor’s degree in any discipline. In most countries, including India, a labour inspector must be a science graduate. In developed countries, higher education (16 years of schooling) is required for labour inspectors and after induction, formal training is mandatory.

The ILO advocates extensive in-house ‘integrated labour inspection training’ to address three aspects of learning — knowledge base, skill base and social competencies.

In Sindh, a labour inspector is attached to the assistant director who is supposed to train the fresh recruit for six months. The senior is either not interested in training the officer, or does not know anything himself.

The shabbiness of the administration office of the Sindh Labour Depart­ment, with piles of dusty, tied-with-string files, disorderly desks, empty chairs (as officers come late and move in and out frequently) speaks volumes for poor documentation and low performance. After the Year Book 2000, which contains a record of the directorate’s functioning of 10 years (1991-2000), no document has been published. I was told that the Year Book 2010 (2001-2010 data) is ready but printing is delayed for lack of funds. With the exception of a couple of persons, none of the staff is computer literate. The directorate has no website. There is no internet connection in the department because “…there is no expenditure head under IT”.

Institution-building is not about putting up concrete structures, as the provincial government erroneously believes and lists in its recent, widely disseminated special supplement. Unless state institutions rid themselves of political interference, bring about fundamental reforms, introduce accountability, ensure integrity of personnel and change strategic direction, labour relations are destined to deteriorate.

View the article at Dawn:

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