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May 9, 2020

Helping the workers

Opinion

May 9, 2020

The existing labour laws in Pakistan are based on the conventions framed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and ratified by Pakistan from time to time.

The regulation of working time has been one of the oldest concerns of labour legislation all over the world. The first ever ILO Convention framed in 1919, was on working hours, stipulating a maximum of 48 hours per working week. This comes to eight hours per day for six days work week.

Today, ILO standards on working time provide the framework for regulated hours of work, daily and weekly periods and annual holidays. These instruments ensure high productivity while safeguarding workers’ physical and mental health. The maximum of 48 hours work week is now a statutory requirement, both for the industrial and commercial establishments all over the world including Pakistan.

Out of the existing 190 conventions, 36 have been ratified by Pakistan so far. Since all these conventions have been ratified by the federal government, it is responsible to the ILO for their implementation and due compliance. Having overlooked this aspect, the subject of labour laws was taken out from the concurrent list of the constitution and devolved to the provinces through the 18th Amendment in April, 2010.

Since then the implementation of three of the welfare laws has been adversely affected to the detriment of workers, who have been deprived of availing full benefits under these laws. These are the Companies Profits (Workers’ Participation) Act, 1968; Provincial Employees Social Security Ordinance, 1965 and the Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Act, 1976. Prior to the devolution, these welfare laws were being managed smoothly providing the stipulated benefits to the workers, but thereafter they have been entangled in litigation before the superior courts.

Unemployment has been caused due to the lockdown in the country on account of the devastation of Covid-19. In order to mitigate the suffering of workers, the provinces should extend their best cooperation to the federal government by removing the glitches in the above-mentioned three of the labour welfare laws, which have deprived the workers from availing full benefits after the 18th Amendment.

The Companies Profits (Workers’ Participation) Act, 1968 allows workers to receive a share in the company’s profit every year. The bulk of five percent allocation of a company’s profit, has been going to the federal government prior to the 18th Amendment, which would be proportionately distributed among all the provinces for utilizing the respective amounts on workers’ welfare.

This act has not been devolved by any of the provinces except Sindh, which has enforced the Sindh Companies Profits (Workers’ Participation) Act, 2015. Since Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan do not have a formidable industrial setup, they have not devolved the act as doing so would have been to their disadvantage. As the federal government is not in a position to carry out any amendment in the act of 1968, on account of the devolution, its benefit has been lost for workers in provinces other than Sindh.

The Provincial Employees Social Security Ordinance, 1965 was promulgated for providing benefits to certain employees or their dependents in the event of sickness, maternity, employment injury or death. Although it was implemented by the social security institutions in each of the provinces, amendments to the ordinance would only be made by the federal government. After the devolution, all the provinces have made their own acts and their respective provisions are now different from each other.

The clauses of Sindh Employees’ Social Security Act, 2016, are quite different from those of the ordinance of 1965. The amount at which the monthly contribution is payable by employers to the Sindh Employees’ Social Security Institution (SESSI), has been under dispute since 2010, and the matter is currently pending adjudication before the Supreme Court. The ongoing bitter relationship between the employers and SESSI is hampering the wholesome delivery of benefits to workers.

The Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Act, 1976 has also been devolved only by the Sindh government and none of the other provinces. While the scheme is still administered by the federal government, the enforcement of the Sindh Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Act, 2014, has created numerous issues in smooth functioning of the scheme by the federal government. The PTI government has twice increased the EOBI pension since coming into power and it is now Rs8,500 per month. This amount of pension would have been much higher, if the federal government was in a position to carry out amendments to the act of 1976.

Under the prevailing catastrophic situation, when all the provincial governments are desperately trying to help out the distressed workforce, their cooperation is also solicited, to give back the management of all the above-mentioned welfare schemes to the federal government through a constitutional amendment. After all, the 18th Amendment is not a sacrosanct provision that cannot be further amended through consensus of all the provincial governments in the countrywide interest of workers.

The federal government and leaders of the opposition parties should keep their differences aside and join hands to mitigate the suffering of workers caused due to the unforeseen and unprecedented havoc.

The writer is an industrial relations professional.

Email: [email protected]