The for­got­ten worker

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Ad­nan Adil

AC­CORD­ING to All Pak­istan Tex­tile Mills As­so­ci­a­tion (APTMA), around 30 per­cent of the coun­try's tex­tile units shut down this cot­ton sea­son ow­ing to the en­ergy cri­sis, the high cost of do­ing busi­ness and er­ratic govern­ment poli­cies. The Eco­nomic Sur­vey of Pak­istan es­ti­mates that there are 3.5 mil­lion job­less peo­ple in the coun­try. How­ever, the lat­est es­ti­mates of an in­de­pen­dent re­search or­gan­i­sa­tion, the In­sti­tute of Pol­icy Re­forms, put the num­ber at 5.3 mil­lion, which im­plies that 32 mil­lion peo­ple are af­fected from un­em­ploy­ment be­cause an earn­ing hand on av­er­age feeds a fam­ily of six peo­ple.

As the state has no sys­tem in place for pro­vid­ing sub­sis­tence al­lowance to the un­em­ployed, there is no al­ter­na­tive to

the work for mere sur­vival. As a re­sult, the women of th­ese fam­i­lies work as do­mes­tic ser­vants, and the chil­dren turn to shops, fac­to­ries, farms or work­shops for abysmally low wages. Es­ti­mates of child labour in the coun­try vary from 10 mil­lion to 12 mil­lion (ILO and Unicef fig­ures). Around 8.5 mil­lion peo­ple, mostly women, work as do­mes­tic ser­vants.

Busi­ness own­ers and in­dus­tri­al­ists have ex­ploited this sit­u­a­tion to their ben­e­fit by forc­ing labour­ers to work longer than eight hours a day, in some cases 12 hours a day, and pay­ing them less than the of­fi­cially fixed min­i­mum wages. In 2015, the Pun­jab and Sindh gov­ern­ments set the min­i­mum wage for un­skilled work­ers at Rs13,000 a month, the Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa govern­ment Rs15,000 and the Balochis­tan govern­ment Rs10,000. How­ever, most of the labour­ers did not ben­e­fit from this.

Labour unions say only 15 per­cent of the over­all labour, in­clud­ing for­mal and in­for­mal sec­tors, is get­ting min­i­mum wage. Vi­o­la­tion of pay­ment wages acts and com­pen­sa­tion acts is ram­pant. Labour in­spec­tors in Pun­jab say that they have strict or­ders from higher au­thor­i­ties to not check min­i­mum wages.

Th­ese days, af­ter a hia­tus of more than a decade, labour in­spec­tors in Pun­jab have started in­spect­ing fac­to­ries - only to check the con­di­tions of the build­ings and child labour. This is be­cause sev­eral ac­ci­dents at fac­to­ries brought the is­sue of un­safe work­ing con­di­tions in sharp pub­lic fo­cus and the govern­ment is un­der pres­sure from the Euro­pean Union to ban child labour in re­turn for GSP Plus sta­tus.

In Novem­ber 2015, a fac­tory man­u­fac­tur­ing poly­thene bags in La­hore's Sun­der In­dus­trial Es­tate col­lapsed, killing 45 labour­ers and in­jur­ing dozens. It came out that more than 500 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 100 chil­dren aged 12-15, used to work at the fac­tory. Most of them were re­ceiv­ing a wage of Rs200 per day for 12 hours a day. Only 18 work­ers were reg­is­tered with the so­cial se­cu­rity depart­ment - in stark vi­o­la­tion of labour laws.

When a labourer does not get min­i­mum wage or com­pen­sa­tion in case of in­jury or ac­ci­dent un­der the rel­e­vant laws, he has to present his case for ad­ju­di­ca­tion to the pro­vin­cial labour depart­ment. Th­ese cases re­main pend­ing for years. If a de­cree is is­sued, it is not im­ple­mented by the em­ployer.

If a labourer ap­peals for the im­ple­men­ta­tion, his case re­mains pend­ing some­times for more than a decade. Poor en­force­ment of laws can be gauged from the fact that there are only 1,850 fac­to­ries in La­hore that are reg­is­tered un­der the Fac­to­ries Act what to speak of more than 7,500 small and medium-sized units op­er­at­ing in the city's res­i­den­tial ar­eas. Fur­ther, em­ploy­ers show most labour­ers work­ing for them as hired on con­trac­tual terms. This con­trac­tual labour in the or­gan­ised sec­tor is de­prived of any kind of so­cial pro­tec­tion and other ben­e­fits. No more than three per­cent of the to­tal labour force is reg­is­tered with the so­cial se­cu­rity de­part­ments.

A cor­rupt bu­reau­cracy, politi­cians and busi­ness­men see to it that labour­ers do not re­ceive even what is legally due to them. Most in­dus­tri­al­ists have strong con­nec­tions with mem­bers of the pro­vin­cial and na­tional as­sem­blies and in­flu­en­tials from rul­ing par­ties. That is why they re­main im­mune from labour laws. Cor­rup­tion is also rife among the of­fi­cials of the labour de­part­ments.

This scribe re­cently vis­ited a La­hore fac­tory that man­u­fac­tures elec­tronic goods such as fridges, air con­di­tion­ers etc and em­ploys nearly 7,000 work­ers. Of th­ese work­ers, only 450 were reg­is­tered with the so­cial se­cu­rity depart­ment. Re­port­edly, when the labour in­spec­tors vis­ited the site, a rul­ing party's politi­cian or­dered the in­spec­tors to not step in­side the fac­tory.

In or­der to deny the labour their le­gal rights, pri­vate busi­ness­men do not al­low for­ma­tion of trade unions at work­places. Unions are the most ef­fec­tive way for labour­ers to get their due rights. Al­though the law makes it manda­tory for a work­place with 10 or more work­ers to have a trade union, not more than one per­cent of such work­places in the coun­try are unionised. Even the ex­port-ori­ented mills and fac­to­ries have formed fake trade unions to dupe im­porters from the West. If some ac­tivists make an ef­fort to form a labour union at a work­place, the nexus of in­dus­tri­al­ists, politi­cians and the po­lice make a hor­ri­ble ex­am­ple of them. Some union work­ers have even been booked on charges of ter­ror­ism while oth­ers have been threat­ened of' 'po­lice en­coun­ters'.

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