An exclusive in­ter­view with Ubaid Ur Rah­man Us­mani

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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

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