Published in Dawn on June 6 2018
LONG-HAUL trucks, trailers and big intercity buses — the most noticeable vehicles on the roads, for their mammoth bodies and exotic art — are operated by workers who are the least visible and seldom talked about in Pakistan’s work sphere. It is their workplaces — roads, highways and motorways, bridges and infrastructure — that get all the attention. Policymakers plan projects, allocate resources, inaugurate sections of motorways; citizens complain of potholes, drive fast on newly built roads and dislike heavy vehicles plying the city’s arteries. All the while, transport workers — drivers, conductors, cleaners, helpers — go about their work shadowed by ‘informality’ and play their silent role in the economy.
The transport sector — road, rail, sea and air — is the fifth largest sector in terms of employment following agriculture, services, manufacturing and construction, and it employs six per cent of the total workforce. The sector is dominated by road transportation where workers struggle with low wages, long working hours, poor work conditions, occupational health hazards and lack of social protection. Highly informal and fragmented, the road transport sector is characterised by a weak regulatory framework and non-compliance with labour laws.
Published in Dawn on February 20 2018
THE low priority accorded to labour is reflected in the timing of the release of the Sindh Labour Policy 2018: a morsel of hope thrown to the people just before the next round of voting begins in July. So egalitarian is the document that you’d think had the government come up with it a few years earlier, the province might be treading the path towards an economy “where assets and incomes are distributed equally” and society is “free from exploitation” as the document spells out the aims of the policy.
The fact that we, the people, excel in surviving on the government’s promises and our own grit, and keep hoping for a better future, was validated by the sentiments of the employers’ and workers’ representatives who played a key role in developing the labour policy. The workers’ representatives are happy that the policy is ‘rights-based, participatory and inclusive’ and embodies the principles outlined in the country’s Constitution and international conventions.
Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2017
IN a society where the culture of dialogue is on the retreat and forces of intolerance ascendant at every level and in all relations, be it social, industrial, political or personal, you tend to hold on to small blessings such as the first Sindh Tripartite Labour Conference held seven years after the devolution of labour.
Aside from the pomp, its resemblance to a PPP jalsa and the two-page advertisement in newspapers, a couple of creditable aspects of the conference organised by the Sindh government need to be noted: it did have representation of the three partners in equal strength (state officials, labour activists and industrialists) and the organisers first gave the mike to labour and employers who blasted the state for its inefficiency and lack of political will and put forth a number of recommendations.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2017
THE world of labour has gone through great turbulence. Globalisation, restructuring, deregulation of economies and technological changes have reshaped labour relations. Precarious, informal employment and diverse contractual forms of work have replaced traditional permanent employment.
The supply chain production system has left the workforce dispersed in various unconnected spaces, shrinking the power of labour unions. Legal frameworks based on old employment relations models no longer protect workers. This has led to a global debate on labour law reforms to address adverse impacts of change.
Published in Dawn October 16th, 2016
IT may sound like a strange word for many of us urban dwellers, yet for those involved in the world of hazardous work it raises alarm — silicosis is an incurable lung disease that leads to respiratory failure and death.
Caused by inhaling silica dust while engaged in industrial operations such as mining, quarrying, sandblasting, rock-drilling, road construction and stone masonry, silicosis afflicts tens of millions of workers and kills thousands of people every year worldwide, according to ILO. The silver lining is that the disease is preventable and thus European countries, the US and Canada have reduced its incidence to a minimum. In South Asia, however, including Pakistan, silicosis mortality rate remains very high.
Published in Dawn on January 12, 2016
‘Let the sky fall, when it crumbles, we will stand tall and face it all together.’ — Skyfall, Adele
Natural disasters aside, white-collar workers can’t even imagine the sky falling down on us, literally, while we are at work. Neither can they imagine what happens in that flicker of a second, and thereafter, to the body and soul of the workers on whom the roof crumbles as they toil for a pittance, or to the families when their dear ones die or are injured. ‘Standing tall and facing it all together’ seemingly is not in our collective ethos. Hence, incidents of factory collapse hardly make a ripple in the power corridor or in society’s consciousness.
Early June is the time the workers in Pakistan hope for some respite in managing their meager household budgets and look forward to a raise in minimum wage announced with the annual budget of the country. The minimum wage for unskilled workers currently in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is Rs10,000 per month, while in Balochistan it is Rs9,000.
With the current family size of 6.8 and 1.5 earning members per family in Pakistan, a monthly income of Rs10,000 translates into Rs73.52 (less than one dollar) per person per day in the household. The picture gets gloomier when we look at the national average monthly wages reported in Pakistan Labour Force Survey 2012-2013 — 20pc workers earn up to Rs5,000 and 41.73pc make an income between Rs5,000 to Rs10,000. With a 9pc inflation rate, minimum wages in real terms amount to even less.
Previously a beneficiary of the tariff cuts under the Generalised System of Preference, Pakistan is one of the 10 countries which have been granted the Generalised System of Preference Plus (GSP-Plus) status by the European Union from January 2014. The GSP-Plus allows developing countries tariff-free export of their products to European markets. Under this special incentive trade arrangement, presumably for ‘sustainable development and good governance’, Pakistan fulfils the criteria for vulnerability. As defined by the EU, vulnerable (in terms of trade) are the countries which lack diversification and insufficient integration within the international trading system.
The GSP-Plus is conditional to ratification of, and compliance to, 27 international standards and covenants on labour, human and women’s rights, environment, narcotics and corruption. These 27 standards comprise eight ILO core labour conventions, six UN conventions/covenants on human rights, and gender and racial discrimination, nine UN conventions/protocols on environment and four UN conventions on narcotics and corruption.