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May 1, 2015

May Day pledge

Opinion

 
May 1, 2015

‘May Day’ or ‘Labour Day’ is celebrated all over the world on May 1 except US and Canada, where it is celebrated on the first Monday of September. This different date for this day in the US is rather ironic since May Day was born in that country after an incident in Chicago in the first week of May, 1886.
The day is celebrated as a remembrance of those striking workers who were killed by the Chicago police on May 3 and 4, 1886 respectively. The newly formed American Federation of Labour had resorted to a nationwide strike on May 1, 1886, demanding an eight-hour work day. The strikers were being watched by the world as acceptance of their demands by American employers would establish a standard for the rest of the world to follow. This is what resulted in the world labour movement adopting May Day as its international holiday.
At present May 1 is just observed as a holiday in Pakistan and the day passes without any resolve by the government or the labour federations to help improve the lot of workers.
During the period 1972–76, our labour unions displayed a lot of enthusiasm and vigour in celebrating the day. At that time the first PPP government ruled the country and introduced significant labour reforms in pursuance of its election manifesto.
The then PPP government added a number of forums through amendments in the Industrial Relations Ordinance, 1969 — enabling workers to discuss with the senior management of an organisation all matters concerning their welfare and improvement in working conditions.
A high level National Industrial Relations Commission (NIRC) was formed to take up cases of unfair labour practices committed either by employers or workers, and punish those found guilty. Unfortunately these reforms did not lead to the desired results and led to industrial turmoil.
The highest numbers of labour welfare laws were also promulgated during the same period. These include the Workers Children (Education) Ordinance, 1972,

Employees’ Cost of Living (Relief) Act, 1973 and Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Act, 1976. The last one was the most beneficial laws as currently 354,632 retired persons are drawing old-age pension from the institution constituted under the said law. Their pensions range from Rs3,600 to Rs6,400 per month.
Under the Provincial Employees Social Security Scheme providing medical treatment and benefits to industrial workers and their dependants, the two percent share in the monthly contribution paid by workers in 1972 was also passed on to the employers in addition to the four percent share already being paid. These percentages were linked to the wage ceiling under the ordinance, which was Rs500 at the time.
If there is no room to introduce more welfare laws or to come up with additional welfare measures for workers, the government can at least make a pledge on ‘May Day’ to consolidate and simplify the labour laws in the coming year for which there is urgent need.
Quite useful work has already been done by various commissions constituted by the respective governments for this purpose in the past, which only requires to be updated. For instance, a draft of the “Employment and Service Conditions Act, 2009” was circulated by the federal government amongst stakeholders for their views. Both employers and workers representatives had done the needful in a joint meeting convened by the then Sindh government’s labour minister but thereafter nothing was heard about the proposed legislation.
The draft law had combined 11 enactments which besides other points included some of the major laws such as the Minimum Wages Ordinance, Industrial & Commercial Employment (Standing Orders) Ordinance, Shops & Establishments Ordinance and the Employees’ Cost of Living (Relief) Act. The act provided one broad definition of ‘worker’ which is different in all the labour laws presently in force. Due to this complication in the prevailing laws, progressive employers have devised their own system of dividing an organisation into two categories — managerial and non-managerial staff.
These employers consider non-management employees as unionised and their terms and conditions of employment are determined through periodical bilaterally negotiated agreements with the representative union. There is never any confusion and issues on this account. If this kind of indifference and lack of interest towards labour laws by the government continues, employers will be left with no choice but to come up with their own rules covering every aspect of managing unionised employees.
Besides the above, policymakers should plan ahead for transition to paperless labour record-keeping instead of banking on the age-old hackneyed manual systems. On the other side of the divide, government functionaries who are responsible for the inspection of factories and establishments too operate in a miserable state. Their offices are flocked by disgruntled individuals seeking reinstatement in jobs through intervention of the labour department.
Both labour legislation and inspection require urgent attention from the government so that pragmatic changes are brought about in their form and structure.
The writer is an industrial relationsprofessional.

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