Wednesday June 19, 2024

Labour representatives reject ILO proposal to make contractual employment legal

By Our Correspondent
June 09, 2024
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah presides over a meeting of the Labour Department at CM House on May 29, 2024. — Facebook/Sindh Chief Minister House
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah presides over a meeting of the Labour Department at CM House on May 29, 2024. — Facebook/Sindh Chief Minister House

A consultation meeting of labour representatives on the Sindh Labour Code was organised by the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) at a hotel on Saturday.

Representatives from various labour organisations across the country attended the meeting and unanimously rejected the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) proposal for the Sindh Labour Code, which, according to them, provides legal cover to different forms of the contractual employment system.

They expressed concerns over the ILO representatives and the Sindh Labour Department terming this proposal a milestone in the labour struggle during their meeting with Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah.

They said that labour representatives were not consulted in the preparation of this proposal, and declared that no labour legislation would be accepted without their consultation.

They demanded that Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and CM Shah intervene to take effective measures to stop this attack on labour rights.

They warned that a similar labour code would be presented in other provinces, and called on labour representatives in those provinces to oppose these anti-labour clauses.

They said that the labour code was proposed on the pretext of consolidating more than 20 labour laws. However, they added, this was merely an act to provide legal cover to the dangerous and anti-labour contract system, which is condemnable.

NTUF General Secretary Nasir Mansoor criticised the ILO for hiring consultants from Australia, Russia and other countries to propose amendments to the labour laws without consulting most of the labour organisations.

Mansoor said that the labour code, which was presented as a plausible act by international consultants, was illegal according to both international and local laws.

He said that the proposal aims to make the contract system legal, without considering that many children work as labourers in factories and other workplaces.

He warned that if the proposal is not opposed, it would deprive workers of their right to fight against the contract system, and pave the way for privatisation and flexible employment practices pushed forward by neoliberalism, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

A Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC) representative said that the process initiated by an August 2023 notification was ambiguous and kept secret. He emphasised that codes are compilations of laws on specific subjects, and pointed out the differences between the proposed codes and the proposed laws.

“The SHRC will invite its own technical experts to write to the government, stating that there is no provision in the law to enact this labour code,” he said, highlighting the contradictions in the definitions of workers and children, among others, and declared the proposal legally untenable.

Qamarul Hassan of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco & Allied Workers’ Associations expressed reservations over the process, questioning why labour representatives were not consulted and why the tripartite commission was not approached.

Hassan stressed that the right of association is universal and fundamental, and cannot be curtailed or changed. He called for a comprehensive review before any advancement in the labour laws, and emphasised the need for clear and simple language in the proposed code.

The State Bank of Pakistan’s labour leader Liaquat Sahi criticised the involvement of the provincial labour departments in formulating the proposed code, and described it as a charge sheet against the PPP government in Sindh.

Sahi accused the ILO of acting as the front man for employers in the region, and warned that the proposed law would undermine the trade union movement. He suggested rejecting the proposed code outrightly instead of proposing counter-legislation.

NOW Communities Executive Director Farhat Parveen proposed that trade union representatives review each law considering the relevant ILO conventions and form committees to address different aspects of the law.

She highlighted the absence of the corresponding labour laws as regards women. She also suggested that trade unions draft their own proposals for making improvements.

Mir Zulfiqar Ali of Public Service International said that a similar labour code was proposed in Bangladesh by the ILO, but the trade unions have rejected it and have been leading a campaign against it.

Ali opined that the whole labour code should not be completely rejected, but only the clauses that are against workers. He said that the ILO has been leading a conspiracy to weaken the power of trade unions.

He emphasised that trade unionists need to engage in dialogue with other stakeholders and provide an alternative point of view instead of just engaging in protest. A response should be prepared collectively, clause by clause, he stressed.

Zehra Khan of the Home-Based Women Workers Federation emphasised the need for clarity in three key definitions: worker, which has become increasingly significant with the rise of the gig economy; employer; and establishment.

Zehra suggested that workers’ representatives should call on the Sindh CM. She also agreed that a protest demonstration should be held outside the CM House and the provincial assembly, asserting that the code should be wholly rejected.

She urged the meeting to consider how due diligence laws can be made effective and relevant, especially since the Pakistan Accord has already been established. She concluded by emphasising that the complaint mechanism needs to be driven by workers.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) Qazi Khizer extended his support to the workers, noting that there are 56,155 cases pending in the Supreme Court, over 300,000 in the high courts and 2.2 million in all courts, resulting in a very slow dispensation of justice.

Khizer pointed out that 28 bills were presented in the National Assembly and passed without any debate. He said that powerful quarters of the state are backing such pieces of legislation. He made the assurance that the HRCP would support the workers in their struggle.

The meeting concluded with demands for strengthening the tripartite mechanism and ensuring that labour representatives are consulted in all labour legislation processes. A 15-member committee was also formed to review the Sindh Labour Code. Its members include Mansoor, Zehra, Farhat, Sahi, Hussain Badshah, Rahib Samejo and Khurshid Abbasi.