An exclusive interview with Ubaid Ur Rahman Usmani
Ubaid Ur Rahman Usmani, Member Managing Committee and Co-chairman Standing Committee on Industrial Relations, Employers’ Federation of Pakistan (EFP) and Additional Secretary General, Workers Employers’ Bilateral Council of Pakistan (WEBCOP), shares his views with Enterprise.
How was the voluntary movement of Workers Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan (WEBCOP) initiated?
To put it in one sentence, it was the compulsion of history. Due to the circumstances, it was logical to come together to preserve our mutual benefits. When the new world order came into vogue and globalization was taking over the under-developed countries, Pakistan was also affected and our industries closed down due to the inability to compete, especially in quality and efficiency.
As the industry’s emphasis was more on trading rather than on manufacturing, huge labour was unemployed and there was a lot of downsizing or rightsizing. The labour leaders became insecure, which led them to seek out some solution. The trade unions had to place more focus on security rather than improving the working conditions. With the new arrivals, trade unions realized that ‘Murdabad’ and ‘Zindabad’ unions would not deliver. They needed to sit with their managements and employers to sort out their problems. The platform of Workers Employers Bilateral Council was thus created by well-known industrialist Ahsan Ullah Khan.
Fortunately, I was also included in that group which had some very prominent people like Mohammad Sharif, Khursheed Ahmed, Kaneez Fatima, Lodhi and Khalil ur Rahman. Our objective is to work unanimously to give recommendations to the government in formulation of labour laws and economics. The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations have described this as a unique experiment in the world, where workers and employers achieve consensus through dialogue on national issues. Other countries like India, Bangladesh and Nepal started taking interest and encouraged us that we should have WEBCOP on SAARC level.
Please elaborate further on WEBCOP.
Since it is a bilateral council, right from the beginning we have ensured that the representation of the workers and employers should be at equal level and also equal in number. We took prominent labour leaders into confidence and held a convocation. We also took the Employers’ Federation of Pakistan (EFP) into confidence. Prominent employers, particularly those in Karachi belonging to the SITE, Korangi and Landhi Industrial Areas and well-known people like Zahid Hussain and Engineer Abdul Jabbar were a part of it. Employers and labour leaders in equal representation sit together from time to time and come up with recommendations in matters of employment, labour laws, etc. We have approached very resourceful employers and convinced them about the utility of this Council and whoever agreed with the aims and objectives of the Council was associated with it. You can call it a club rather than a hierarchical structure having a general body that conducts elections. Over time, like-minded employers and labour leaders have kept joining the caravan.
How do you view the challenges in terms of better conditions for labourers?
Today the challenge is unemployment because of various reasons i.e. globalization and our economic and labour policies. Many of our important industries, instead of growing are being closed down. There is a need for new industrialization to start and investment to come in. Economic and political peace is important for industrial progress. The effects of terrorism and post-9/11 need to be addressed to regain economic momentum. The main challenge of unemployment creates a number of other social evils. Poverty and unemployment are twin issues that employers and workers face. There is an increasing need to instill confidence
in employers to provide better employment conditions.
With your background in training and counselling, how do you view the growth of the management sector and what should be the key benchmarks?
I think benchmarking is a secondary thing, because once you have industry then you can rationalize it, provide norms to the industry, and introduce a number of improvements. To establish the industry, employers must have the confidence that they can invest in the country rather than taking the capital outside. Our own investors are shy of Pakistan because the socio-economic climate is not congenial. We need new industrialization in the country backed by effective policy-making. Our industries have suffered with the opening up of the Chinese market and now with the granting of MFN status to India, it is uncertain how this will affect our industries.
Please describe the special projects undertaken by EFP.
The Employers’ Federation of Pakistan basically stands for safeguarding the interests of labour with reference to Human Resource Development, Industrial Relations and Manpower.
Initially, we were assigned the project against child labour by the ILO. I happened to be national coordinator of the project. We travelled through all the four provinces and conducted seminars, meetings and conventions to raise awareness against the menace. That was a pioneer project and now EFP is continuously undertaking various projects for child labour with the help of the ILO. Another important project concerns gender issues - the sexual harassment and awareness over gender equality. Along with the ILO, we have also been supported by a number of NGOS in this project. Then we have projects on various forms of forced labour. We found that a lot of forced labour was involved in Hyderabad’s bangle industry and in the brick kiln industry of Punjab and it is a similar case in KPK. So, we aimed at bringing people out of forced labour and beggary too.
We also undertook the project of skills enhancement. The Skill Development Council (SDC) was established with the help of EFP and it is imparting a wide range of training programs. And lastly, now we have been assigned some programs based on decent work. By decent work, it implies that workers should have dignity in their work; they should get decent wages, congenial ground for growth and an overall just system which is free of any exploitation. Then there are eight core conventions of ILO related to the basic rights of labour. Two are related to the fundamental rights, two are based on forced labour, two are directly related to discrimination of gender, race, creed or colour and the final two are generally related to corruption and good governance. All these eight conventions have already been ratified by the Government of Pakistan with the advocacy of ratification of Employers’ Federation of Pakistan. We have contributed a lot by ratifying the ILO conventions. Pakistan is one of the countries where we have achieved successful results
which have been recognized by ILO.
Is the overall policy implementation facilitating industrial relations and the entities of workers and employers?
The Ministry of Labour has policies against child or bonded labour and against the discrimination of gender. These policies are designed through tripartite consultation. This is the cardinal principle of ILO, that all matters related to discrimination should be resolved through tripartite consultation involving the government, employers and workers. There are workers in the form of trade union leaders and employers in the form of the Employers’ Federation and the government is also there. Policies are laid down through the consultation of these three. Once the policies are pronounced, again it is the responsibility of these three bodies to see that they are also implemented in their true letter and spirit. We are always advocating and lobbying the implementation of those strategies which are given to tripartite consultation.
Which areas of industry need immediate attention with reference to the welfare of workers?
Primarily, since we are underdeveloped or are hardly a developing country, I think the most important factor for the welfare of labour is that their wages be in line with the standard of living. It is important that labour should not only get minimum wages but fair wages. But, as wage constitutes income for the worker, it constitutes an expense to the employer. It is therefore important to strike a balance between the affordability of the employer and how much a worker should be paid. Besides that, the priority of our workers’ welfare should be on health benefits and should be taken care of in the event of sickness or disability. Although, we have laws in the form of social security law which caters to all such needs, but the quality of services given by the social security institution is not normally considered to be at a desirable level. For education as well, funds are provided to the worker to educate one or two kids. But I think the problem is so acute that efforts here and there would not be a solution. We are focusing our attention on the health and educational programs as the major areas for labour welfare.
“There is a need for new industrialization to start and investment to come in. Economic and political peace is important for industrial progress. The effects of terrorism and post-9/11 need to be addressed to regain economic momentum.”
In your view, implementation of which international standards would improve the labour situation in the country?
ILO designs conventions for almost all aspects of work and so far they have already passed more than 150 conventions. But only those conventions that are ratified by the member states are binding, others are not. Pakistan is one of those fortunate countries which have already ratified about 34 conventions related to all the basic requirements of the workers. Starting from weekly holidays to maximum working hours, maternity benefits, social security, employees old age benefits, etc., are all covered under the ratified conventions. What is needed is honest implementation. So, I think we have already done it. We have all the fundamental rights provided under the constitution. Since they are all under bureaucratic control, a number of complaints arise as far as implementation is concerned. But we are one of the few countries in the world that have ratified all the basic conventions