Dangerous Industry

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2016

AS you drive down the Super Highway, past Sohrab Goth in Karachi, your eyes fall on mammoth excavators — huge truck cranes, bulldozers, loaders and cement-mixers parked left and right in the open katcha land. Around the dangerous-looking machinery you spot drivers and cleaners in faded shalwar kameez squatting and chatting, or resting on charpoys.

In between are patches of dust and bushes, raiti-bajri adda with mounds of gravel, stand-by trucks and junkyards full of rusted vehicles. The first thought that springs to your mind: ‘Construction business is booming is Pakistan!’ Indeed, the machinery, high-rises, upcoming residential schemes, underpasses and flyovers — all highly visible — are indicative of the 7pc growth rate of the construction industry and its 2.4pc contribution to the country’s GDP.

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Missing trade unions

Published in Dawn on June 16 2014

FOR the cynic, or for a gleeful employer, the trade union is a dying breed, perhaps already dead; for a die-hard optimist, the trade union — like a phoenix — is arising from its own ashes. But dead or alive, trade unions are definitely evolving into newer shapes. Driven to the wall in the current cut-throat, neo-liberal, capitalist era, trade unions are fighting precarious employment and multinational corporations by banding together across the globe.

However, it is not the first time that trade union bodies are coming together. Major international trade union federations had emerged in Europe and the US after the Second World War to claim their rights from the state and national capitalists. Now their adversaries are the powerful multinational corporations and financialised capitalism. Since the beginning of the 21st century, international trade union federations are realigning themselves as global unions and reaching out to workers across continents.

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GSP-Plus and Labour Compliance

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.

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