Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2021.
Just six months before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, trade unions had reiterated the urgency of protecting workers’ rights on a global platform and warned against “an unprecedented level of income inequality, shrinking democratic space and an age of anger where corporations have too much power and people too little”. This was at the 100th conference of the International Labour Organisation held in May 2019.
Then came the pandemic which wreaked havoc on peoples’ lives and livelihoods across the board. In Asia-Pacific alone, about 81 million jobs were lost by December 2020. Cases of violations of workers and trade unions’ rights with regard to lay-offs, working hours and the payment of wages increased manifold.
Though trade unions have weakened globally in the 21st century, their role is still considered vital in promoting equity and stability in society and their participation essential in tripartite and bipartite social policy dialogues. Trade union density across the world varies from high (90.4 per cent in Iceland) to medium (43.2pc in Egypt) to low (12.6pc in India) and very low (2.3pc in Pakistan).
Published on June 8 2016 in Dawn
THE convoluted history of the labour movement in Pakistan is replete with negativities: state oppression by both military and democratic regimes, ethnic and ideological divides among workers, employers’ subversion of genuine workers’ representation through pocket unions, to name a few. Yet it was a brief, two-year flicker of industrial labour struggle that stood out for its promise of labour solidarity and potential for sustained movement, had it not been extinguished by Z.A. Bhutto’s civilian martial law regime in June 1972.
Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2016
IT was an early March morning in 2009 and I was cruising along one of the primary roads in the central business district area of Dhaka city where many of the ready-made garments (RGM) factories are housed in old buildings.
Young girls in droves, dressed in shalwar-kameez, were emerging from the side lanes, stepping down from the buses, crossing the road, chatting on the footpath, bending over street vendors’ wares now and then and heading towards their factories for the morning shift.
I was in Dhaka to get a sense of what makes Bangladeshi RGM women workers organise for their rights. I climbed a narrow staircase of a building where many girls had gone. The factory was on the first floor. From the small landing I looked through the iron grille padlocked from outside: women bending over sewing machines in rows. A surly young man guarded the door: “outsiders are not allowed”, he told me.
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.
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.
This research report was written for Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), Karachi and was published in 2006.
This study presents an overview of road transport sector work environment, labour relations and working conditions and examines workers’ response to address some of the issues relating to social security through collective action. Methodology includes literature review and assessment through informal discussions with a select number of transport workers/operators, representatives of transport workers’ unions/organizations/federations, and private transport companies.
Mustachioed, grim-faced, 44-year-old Najibullah Khan is on the road for the last 29 years. He works as a driver on long distance route—Karachi to Islamabad. “I get Rs. 1500 per trip. A trip takes 26-27 hours. I make about 6 trips a month and that adds up to Rs. 9000 per month”. Born in a village in Musakhel, Mianwali, Najib dropped out of school after class 6 and was pushed into the labour market as a child. Initially he worked as bus cleaner and helper. When he got his license at 18, he took to driving. In 1973 he came to live in Karachi where he shares a rented accommodation with another person.
Najib’s family members (parents, wife and 5 children) work as sharecropper in the village. These days he is paying a monthly installment of Rs. 1000 to the money lender for a loan of Rs. 10,000 he took to help his family buy agricultural inputs. “There is one more driver along with me in the bus, and we take turns after 4-5 hours of driving, taking 2-3 hours rest in between. After each trip I am off the bus for 24 hours and busy with maintenance of the vehicles and carry out related errands. I get little time to spend with my family whom I visit fortnightly.” For Najib, there are no holidays, no medical or other facilities and no social security.
Click on the link below to view the full report:
Road Transport Workers in Pakistan