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December 21, 2018

Govt to ban underage domestic workers, court told


December 21, 2018

LAHORE: The Punjab government informed the Lahore High Court (LHC) Thursday that it has decided to ban the employment of children under the age of 15 as domestic workers and a bill regarding rights of domestic workers would be tabled in the provincial assembly soon.

“The rights of domestic workers have been violated ever since Pakistan came into being,” the court remarked and then directed the provincial lawmakers to regulate the wage structure and working hours of domestic workers.

The court ruled in the case after the Punjab government provided a draft of the Domestic Workers Bill 2018. The court was hearing a petition moved by Advocate Sheraz Zaka arguing that in 2015, the former chief justice of LHC had directed the government to frame a policy on domestic workers wages, but failed to do so.

Moreover, Assistance Advocate General Rao Shahid Saleem told the court that “as part of the proposed bill, domestic workers’ shifts will be limited to eight hours, whereas special courts and committees will be formed to resolve their problems”.

The provincial law officer informed that the submitted draft plans to ban the employment of children under-15 expressed its satisfaction over the recommendations and referred to it as a positive measure to protect the rights of the domestic workers.

Earlier in 2015, then LHC Chief Justice Mansoor Ali had ordered the government to pass the legislation for the protection of domestic workers. Also, it was argued by the petitioner that Pakistan is a member of International Labour Organisation and has signed about 36 different treaties on workers’ rights; however, the obligations are not being fulfilled by the provincial governments.

Following this, the high court had formed a commission comprising Punjab secretary labour, petitioner counsel Sheraz Zaka and other two advocates Sahar Umer Ata Bandial, Ahmad Pansota advocate and a representative of UNICEF.

The commission had given mandate to report on the government progress to take legislative measures to safeguard the rights of domestic workers. The judge observed that domestic workers were being subjected to long hours work and were being harassed by the employees as recently it has been witnessed that several incidents had taken place subjecting small children deployed in domestic household work.

The judge had formed commission by observing that it seems the government was not serious to take legislative measures although assistant advocate general produced a draft bill on protection of domestic workers rights.

Petitioner counsel Sheraz Zaka contended that in 2015, the LHC had ordered labour secretary to consider framing policy on the domestic workers regarding their wages and they should also be notified just like workers working in industrial establishments.

He submitted that tender age girls and boys were employed in for domestic household works are being subjected to maltreatment, yet there was no policy. He elaborated that in South Africa and UK the labour rates of domestic workers in household and workers in industrial establishments are the same as both are covered under labour laws whereas there is no mention of domestic workers in labour laws of Pakistan.

He said that child labour menace had increased manifold over the past few years in domestic household work due to the non-existence of policy or regulation for the domestic workers. He said that the child labour in domestic household work was damaging the reputation of the country among the comity of nations with the recent past incident of Tayyaba given maltreatment by the wife of a session judge.

He said that earlier the LHC chief justice on a petition had directed secretary labour to formulate a policy with respect to domestic workers doing household work but it was not done so far.

The judge appreciated the fact that finally the Punjab government is legislating on the domestic workers rights and directed expedite the process, observing that it is happening for the very first time legislation is being introduced and Pakistan is one of those few countries where domestic workers would be regulated under a law and child labour below 15 years would be strictly prohibited.

Advocate Zaka argued that when workers in commercial establishment are being regulated under Punjab industrial relations act 2010, then there must also be a law for domestic workers.

The court admired the efforts of labour department as the exploitation of domestic workers, including children would be brought to an end. The judge observed that the international law on domestic workers convention is of highly persuasive value although Pakistan has not ratified it. The court disposed of the petition and observed that the detailed verdict would be issued soon.