Three-Way Dialogue

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.

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Brick and Bondage

Published in Dawn November 1st, 2016

ONE of the many trials and tribulations of workers engaged in brick-making was reflected in the recent news of their children protesting against the closure of three schools, facilitated by an NGO and supported by the Sindh Education Foundation, at the brick kilns in Tando Hyder in Sindh.

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Collective Struggle of Lady Health Workers

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2016

ONE of the many contradictions of our society is between its loud avowal of its love of the ‘family’ institution and its devaluation of woman, the pivotal figure in the family. Not only do we look down on women inside the family, we give two hoots about women who commit themselves to door-to-door healthcare services for the women and children of the family. No wonder the issues being faced by lady health workers — job security, timely payment of wages and supplies of kits and medicines —remain to be addressed fully by the state.

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Workplace Safety

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.

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Coastal power

Published in Dawn on March 23 2015

While trade unions in Pakistan are by and large led exclusively by men, women too have played an important role in labour struggles in the informal sector.

Whether it was tenants rising up against landlords in the pre-Partition era, brick kilns and agricultural workers struggling for freedom from bondage in contemporary Sindh and Punjab, the peasants’ resistance against the military for land rights, or the fisherfolk’s struggle for rights on natural resources, women have emerged as leaders. They have mobilised marginalised communities to tackle tough challenges.

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Tenants in Sindh

Published in Dawn on February 8 2015

“How many crooked, out-of-the-way, narrow, impassable, and devious paths has humanity chosen…” ­— Nikolai Gogol (Dead Souls)

While Karachi remains sunk in its turbulence and political convolutions, the rural citizenry of Sindh has its own woeful tales to tell. They are hidden from urbanites, different in contours but similar in theme — extortion, abuse of political power, violations of laws and procedures. What makes these stories different is the undercurrent of rebellion and a quest for the straight path instead of succumbing to the crooked and devious.

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Baldia factory fire: two years after

Published in Dawn, September 11th , 2014

“The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.” — Voltaire

IT has been two years since Pakistan’s worst industrial disaster took place in a garment factory in Baldia Town, Karachi on Sept 9, 2012. A fire in the factory that day led to the loss of 259 precious lives and injuries to 55 workers who got trapped in the building because three out of four doors were locked from the outside. Locking the workers inside the premises is not uncommon in garment factories exporting to international buyers. An inquiry report released by the FIA as well as the case proceedings revealed violations of labour laws, safety laws and building by-laws by the factory owners and a number of state institutions.

Two notable aspects of the follow-up to this disaster are the nature of the criminal proceedings in the Sindh High Court (SHC) and the compensation to the bereaved families. Developments in both took place due to the pressure built by civil society organisations.

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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.

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Coal miners: the ground realities

PAKISTAN ranks as the sixth richest country in respect of coal reserves but those who dig out the black gold from the depths of the earth are the most exploited section of the workforce. Descending into dark, airless tunnels, miners extract coal from simple tools, inhaling coal dust, fearing methane gas explosions, fires, cave-ins, poisonous gas leakages and haulage accidents.

Out of the mines, the workers endure harsh conditions in makeshift mud shacks nearby, or in villages devoid of all basic facilities. Mine workers in Pakistan get a pittance for work considered one of the highest-risk activities in the world in terms of safety and health.

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