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Tripartite mechanism activated to mitigate impact of COVID-19 lockdown on workers

By Our Correspondent
March 30, 2020

Workers, employers and the government have agreed to activate a tripartite mechanism in Sindh, with the labour department announcing the conversion of its joint directors’ offices into labour complaint centres to receive grievances from workers whose employers refuse to pay their wages amid the current lockdown, in accordance with the government’s earlier notification.

After a series of deliberations through conference calls during the past few days, the Employers Federation of Pakistan (EFP) and various workers organisations based in Sindh have decided that the offices of the EFP, the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (Piler) and the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) will also receive workers’ complaints about non-payment of their wages.

Rasheed Ahmed Solangi, secretary of the provincial government’s labour & human resources department, made the assurance that in case of any legal hitch in the implementation of the earlier government notification, the provincial administration would issue an ordinance to ensure that all workers received their wages for the entire period of the lockdown.

Among those who attended these online conferences were Sindh Tripartite Committee for Implementation of Labour Laws Chairman Zaki Ahmed Khan, the EFP’s Fasihul Karim and Syed Nazar Ali, senior economist Dr Kaiser Bengali, employers’ representative Nazim F Haji, Piler’s Karamat Ali and Zulfiqar Shah, the Peoples Labour Bureau’s Habibuddin Junaidi, the NTUF’s Nasir Mansoor and the Home-based Women Workers Federation’s Zehra Khan.

Recognising that the novel coronavirus, which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, requires collective efforts from all sections of society, the workers’ bodies stressed the need for more cooperation among various interest groups within the socio-political and economic settings of society.

In the case of Pakistan, they said, it requires more close coordination and cooperation among workers, employers’ organisations and government agencies to mitigate its impact on the country’s workforce.

They fully endorsed the Sindh government’s March 25 notification asking businesses operating across the province not to lay off any of their workers during the lockdown and to pay them their wages, considering this closure period as paid leave.

They urged the employers in all the categories to recognise the severity of the pandemic and the conditions of the workers, and to comply with the government’s orders in letter and spirit.

They resolved to back any further actions to be taken by the provincial government and to extend unconditional support during the present crisis if and when required.

Representatives of employers, workers and labour departments said they recognise that the current lockdown is a short-term measure, and the associated actions such as the order to pay salaries during the lockdown is a short-term and emergency order.

In a statement issued by the participants of the meeting, they stressed the need to devise a monitoring mechanism to implement this order. They said the EFP has already issued a public statement asking its members and employers to comply with the government’s orders.

They also said workers organisations are engaged in spreading awareness among workers about this. However, there is a need to activate the labour department’s mechanism to monitor and implement this order, they added. Factories that are still open should provide safety equipment to their workers and transport facilities, they demanded.

As medium-term measures, they suggested that if the lockdown were to be extended beyond two weeks, the Sindh government in collaboration with the federal administration and with the consultation of workers and employers organisations may consider taking some actions.

They may decide to pay wages equal to the minimum wage to all workers without work from the funds available with labour welfare institutions like the Sindh Employees Social Security Institution, the Workers Welfare Fund and the Employees Old-age Benefits Institution for at least three months.

They may support daily-wagers from various schemes and relief packages announced by the federal and provincial governments through cash transfers for at least three months.

They may collect data of home-based workers, agricultural workers, domestic workers and other people associated with the informal sector to bring them all into the social security network through the open-registration process.

They recommended that the provincial government establish an unemployment fund with the aim to support citizens losing their jobs due to the closure of businesses and the negative economic impact of the pandemic on a more regular basis.

They suggested the establishment of an independent board to oversee the functioning and distribution of this fund, and the constitution of an expert group of professionals to prepare a plan for at least a year to mitigate the impact on labour.

As suggested previously, they said, the only sustainable solution to withstand economic shocks and unemployment on a more permanent basis is a system of universal social security for all citizens.

This, they added, can be established by combining all the existing labour welfare schemes and social protection programmes, as well as by levying a special tax.

This, they explained, should cover income benefits in case of illness, job loss, unemployment and crisis such as this one created by the spread of the coronavirus. They said computerised data of workers and citizens should be maintained and accessible to all in terms of registration and inquiry.

The government should immediately make a relevant announcement and constitute a panel of experts and stakeholders to devise a plan within the next six months, they added.