Money Matters

Ratify workers’ rights

By Majyd Aziz
Mon, 06, 24

Parliamentarians need to take the initiative to ratify three crucial International Labor Organization conventions that are essential for industrial peace, safety and health of workers, and boosting exports.

Ratify workers’ rights

Parliamentarians need to take the initiative to ratify three crucial International Labor Organization conventions that are essential for industrial peace, safety and health of workers, and boosting exports.

The positive point is that all three Pakistani constituents of the ILO are on one page and are fully supportive of the need for ratification of ILO Conventions 190, 155 and 187. Ratifying these conventions is not only a moral and legal obligation, but also a smart and strategic decision. It can bring multiple benefits to state, society, and economy.

It was a red-letter day at the ILO Centenary in Geneva on June 21, 2019 as the ILO International Labor Conference (ILC) adopted a new labour standard to combat violence and harassment in the workplace. The Violence and Harassment Convention 2019 (C190) was adopted by delegates representing governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations. In my capacity as president of the Employers Federation of Pakistan (EFP), and as representative of all Pakistani employers, I also voted in favour of C190. As of today, 36 countries have ratified C190. Why not Pakistan?

According to the ILO, C190 takes a pragmatic approach defining violence and harassment as “a range of unacceptable behaviors and practices” that “aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm.” This potentially covers physical abuse, verbal abuse, bullying and mobbing, sexual harassment, threats and stalking, among other things.

The ILO sees C190 as “groundbreaking with a specific focus on Gender-Based Violence. It defines and recognizes the effects of domestic violence on the world of work, acknowledging that gender-based violence and harassment disproportionately affects women and girls and establishing the obligation of states to develop policies with an inclusive, integrated, intersectional approach, which is critical to addressing multiple forms of discrimination and unequal gender-based power relations.”

Violence and harassment in the world of work is a serious violation of human rights and a threat to the dignity, health, and well-being of those who experience it and their families. It demoralizes working environments and labour relations, affects productivity, and jeopardizes enterprise reputation. It is also a barrier to achieving decent work, gender equality and social justice.

Pakistan has taken a positive initiative in this direction. The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Bill 2022, passed on January 14, 2022, expands the definition of workplaces to cover both formal and informal workplaces and closely reflects C190. It specifically includes domestic workers who often are isolated and marginalized and more vulnerable to workplace violence and harassment.

In June 2022, the ILC decided to include a safe and healthy working environment in the ILO’s framework of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work designating the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Convention C155 (1981) and the promotional framework for OSH Convention C187 (2006) as fundamental Conventions.

ILO Convention No 155 calls for the “periodic review of the national OSH policy as a key feature of the national policy process in relation to OSH.” It states that “the situation regarding occupational safety and health and the working environment shall be reviewed at appropriate intervals, either overall or in respect of particular areas, with a view to identifying major problems, evolving effective methods for dealing with them and priorities of action, and evaluating results. The policy requirement is thus a dynamic, cyclical process. Through the periodical review, scientific and technological progress and changes in the working environments can be incorporated into the national policy.”

Convention No 187 requires nations to establish, maintain, progressively develop and periodically review a national system for occupational safety and health, in consultation with the most representative organizations of employers and workers”. It defines the national OSH system as the infrastructure which provides the main framework for implementing the national policy and national programmes on occupational safety and health. In order to provide protection to workers from all work-related injuries and diseases, the ILO has adopted more than forty standards as well as forty Code of Practices specifically dealing with OSH.

With the consensus of tripartite partners, the EFP contributed to developing the first Sindh Safety and Health Policy after the tragic incident of Ali Enterprises in Baldia Karachi – known as the Baldia Factory Fire -- that resulted in the death of more than 250 workers. This was followed by the formulation of the Sindh Occupational Health and Safety Act 2015 with mutual consultation with the tripartite partners. This is the first legislation on the subject and has been followed for adoption in the provinces of Punjab and KPK.

Pakistan has ratified 36 ILO conventions and has considerably improved the implementation of all ten ILO International Core Labor Standards (ILS), including the two on OSH since the previous eight are prescribed in the 27 conditionalities of EU GSP Plus. Ratification of C190, C155 and C187 would send a strong and positive message to the ILO, EU, as well as the major brands that source from Pakistan.

It is also the responsibility of employers to ensure that they too should fully implement the ILO ILS in true letter and spirit. Tripartite partners must also sensitize, motivate, and guide SMEs to introduce and implement the standards in their ecosystem. The times are changing. The days of complacency and disregard of all standards that are imperative for workers are over, especially when productivity, efficiency and a contented workforce can ensure reduction in cost of production and compliance of laws.

Women parliamentarians are earnestly requested to spearhead the process of ratification of C190 since their personal commitment would definitely convince their colleagues to be in sync with the process of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Furthermore, parliamentarians should also take notice of the frequent cases of tragedies resulting from shoddy use of electric wiring, non-provision of firefighting equipment, and lackadaisical monitoring systems in many plants and places of business. Ratification of C155 and C187 would force tripartite partners to use their critical mass to achieve sanity in the working environment.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia fabulously stated that: “Many countries have ratified ILO conventions, but what is urgent now is the faithful implementation of these conventions. We must see to it that the eight ILO fundamental conventions are fully carried out, to ensure that workers enjoy social justice.”

The writer is a former president of the Employers Federation of Pakistan.