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October 9, 2019

Call for massive policy reforms to ensure rights of workers, activists

Karachi

October 9, 2019

Speakers at a consultation have demanded that the government introduce massive policy reforms to ensure compliance with international obligations, especially the 27 UN conventions and covenants on human rights and labour rights under the European Union’s GSP Plus.

They were speaking at a multi-stakeholder consultation on ‘Human Rights Treaties and Core Labour Rights in Pakistan’ organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) at a hotel on Tuesday.

Labour leaders, representatives of various government departments and independent institutions, civil society and human rights activists, and traders attended the consultation to provide their suggestions to improve the situation of human rights and labour rights in Pakistan.

The workers’ representatives demanded that the government introduce land reforms to distribute all the state land among landless peasants to end poverty and ensure food security in Pakistan.

The representatives of exporters and workers were unanimous in their resolve that the GSP Plus facility for Pakistan has significantly contributed to the increase of Pakistani textiles. They emphasised the continuation of the GSP Plus status because the workers have also been benefiting from it.

The speakers urged the provincial and federal governments to take practical measures to ensure effective implementation of the Human Rights and Labour Rights Conventions under the GSP scheme, including providing fair trial rights to common citizens and human rights defenders.

The meeting pointed out that despite a significant number of laws on human rights and labour rights in Pakistan and after the 18th amendment to the Constitution, the provincial assemblies have made their own laws but their implementation continues to be an area of concern, while rules of business of many new labour laws are yet to be formulated.

Gulfam Nabi Memon of the Sindh Labour Department said that after the 18th amendment, the PA passed the largest number of labour laws in all four provinces that were earlier at the federal level. He admitted that the rules of business of many such laws are yet to be formulated. In the absence of rules of business of labour laws, the workers are facing problems, he said.

Memon said the PA passed the Sindh Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 2015, but to implement it, each district has to form district vigilance committees (DVCs). Unfortunately, out of the total 29 districts, only seven DVCs have been notified by the respective deputy commissioners.

Nuzhat Shireen, chairperson of the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, said the commission is mandated to review all the new and old laws pertaining to women. The commission has reviewed six laws since its establishment.

She said that a special committee of the commission comprising senior lawyers is evaluating all the laws that affect women in Sindh. Induction of women in the overall workforce is a major challenge in Sindh, she said, adding that the commission has raised this issue of violation of women’s rights with the government. The commission has also asked the government for funds to register female workers.

Barrister Pir Mujeeb, MPA and chairman of the Standing Committee on Human Rights in Sindh Assembly, said the awareness of laws and rights is essential. He accepted the lack of capacity of the government departments to implement laws.

He said that now the PA’s standing committees have acquired more power, adding that the rules of business of the House have been recently amended. Now the committees have acquired powers to take suo motu notice and they can influence the relevant department to implement laws.

An expert in human rights laws and conventions, Iqbal Detho said that under GSP Plus, Pakistan is a state party in seven human rights covenants and eight core labour conventions of the ILO.

He pointed out that the birth registration of children is still lacking in Sindh, as only 16 per cent of kids have acquired birth certificates in the province. The Sindh Child Protection Authority has been established, but its core child protection units are not functional.

Karamat Ali, executive director of Piler, emphasised the initiation of land reforms. He said that each peasant family should be provided at least seven acres of land. He said the Sindh government has decided to universalise the social security scheme, which should also apply to agriculture workers.

He said the minimum wage of Rs17,500 for unskilled workers is insufficient because it is actually half of the minimum needs of a family. It should be Rs35,000 a month. He said that it is a fact that 83 per cent of the workers do not receive minimum wages.

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