The country’s exporters to European Union have earned millions as benefits from Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) Plus status of Pakistan, but they have failed to transfer these benefits to workers. The employers are enjoying lucrative benefits for last many years without taking any serious step to change the lot of the poor workers.
This apathy shown by exporters/employers was not only infringing the rights of the workers but also jeopardizing GSP Plus status of Pakistan that entails steps to ensure that exporters were fulfilling their obligations towards the rights of the workers under international conventions. This was the crux of an interim report 2016 on ‘GSP Plus and Labour Standards in Pakistan’ launched by Pakistan Workers Federation here at a news conference on Tuesday. Those who addressed the news conference include: Zahoor Awan, president Pakistan Workers’ Confederation and Ch. Muhammad Yaqoob, Ch. Naseem Iqbal, Ch. Muhammad Shaukat, Tikka Khan and Ch. Muhammad Yasin and other labour leaders.
The report 2016 says since launch of the previous report in 2014 there has been very limited advancement on ensuring workers’ rights. The workers during this time period have continuously been facing hurdles in getting their unions registered; the chambers of commerce using their influence in the government departments are reported to have been thwarting formations of workers unions; non-provision of employment contracts continued during the period and implementation on minimum wages rules was not ensured. “No serious effort was made either by national or provincial governments to address the serious challenges of occupational safety and health risk at work places,” Mr. Awan said.
The EU trade concessions under GSP Plus status to Pakistan benefit large scale manufacturers and exporters, such as textile and clothing industry, enabling them to compete with their regional rivals such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, which already have duty free access to the EU market.
The Trade Union leaders quoting the report said that privatization and setting up of export processing zones have marred labour and trade union rights in the country. Amid privatization, labour unions either ceased to exist or became non-functional and the owners developed a tendency to fire previous permanent employees and hire new temporary employee who do not enjoy right to form unions. Banks and financial institutions are facing the wrath of Section 27-B in banking laws which has literally reduced the role of unions in the banks.
The trade union leaders demanded of the government to improve its system of inspection of implementation of labour standards at plant levels so that it can track those exporters and employers who, by not ensuring rights to their workers, are causing embarrassment for the country. If the government would not take appropriate action and lot of the labour would not improve, the country may lose its GPS Plus status. There is a need that the governments- provincial and federal- pay attention to the state of labour in the country in terms of curbing child and forced labour, withdrawal of exemption for export processing zones from enforcing labour laws and standards, ensuring gender parity in work force, reinforcing Employees Old Age Benefit (EOBI) scheme and social security mechanism, payment of overtime and proper utilization of workers funds.