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Employers, unions, civil society ask govt for steps to recover from COVID-19 crisis

By Our Correspondent
July 16, 2020

At a webinar on Tuesday, a group of industrialists, exporters, human rights, labour rights and civil society activists and government functionaries underlined the need for close coordination among all stakeholders to implement all 27 international conventions required to be implemented for the continuation of Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) for Pakistan.

The COVID-19 situation also necessitated that Pakistan should benefit more from this scheme to avoid more job losses. The Democracy Reporting International (DRI) organised the webinar.

Veerji Kolhi, adviser to the Sindh chief minister on human rights, said that the provincial government had established a Treaty Implementation Cell, which was overseeing the implementation of the international commitment and also creating awareness and promoting values and international conventions regarding human rights and labour rights.

He pointed out that the Sindh government’s Human Rights Department had recently set up an online 24-hour complaint cell against human rights violations in the province.

Justice (retd) Majida Razvi, chairperson of the Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC), said the government had made record legislation pertaining to labour, women and minorities rights, and a number of commissions had been established in the province.

Besides the SHRC, the government had also established the Sindh Commission on Status of Women, the Health Care Commission, the Information Commission and other commissions, she said.

Stressing the need for the inter-departmental coordination among human rights bodies, Razvi said the federal and provincial governments had to play an important role. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the SHRC had been receiving labour- related complaints, she said.

Syed Nazar Ali, secretary general of the Employers Federation of Pakistan (EFP), said that after getting the GSP+ facility in 2014 Pakistan had not promoted social dialogue to discuss ground realities.

He said the businessmen had fully supported the compliance and had cooperated with the government. He said GSP+ was also a tool for improving productivity. “The EFP itself has developed a mechanism in which we ensure compliance and do social audits about compliance with labour standards.”

He said the Pakistani industry was facing problems and needed support from the government in the form of subsidised electricity or gas. He added that Pakistan’s competitors like Bangladesh were providing support to industries.

“We know Bangladesh is providing support to small and medium enterprises, but such support is not available to Pakistan industries and exporters.”

Karamat Ali, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), said that Pakistan’s economy was in a bad shape because of the coronavirus, but after the pandemic it had deteriorated. He said the implementation of 27 conventions under the GSP+ Scheme was, in fact, for the benefit of Pakistan’s economy.

He said the right to association was unconditional under the Core Labour Rights of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), but this was denied in Pakistan. Only one per cent of workers in the country were unionised, he said and underlined the need for making legislation for industries-wise and sector-wise unions.

Ali said that both the EFP and TUs should make a consensus law on trade unions. The Trade Union Law of 1926, which was made in pre-Partition India with the efforts of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, should be re-enacted with a consensus, he added. .

Zubair Motiwala, senior businessmen and a former president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said the GSP+ was an asset to and blessing for Pakistan. “Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the international markets have gone down by 40 per cent. He said industries in Pakistan need government support to sustain the losses,” he said.

He criticised the Sindh government’s COVID-19 law in which the industries had been told not to retrench their workers and pay them full salaries. He said that even the government of Pakistan has sacked people from the PIA, Pakistan Steel Mills and other organisations.

He said that when 40 per cent of orders to Pakistani exporters had fallen, how it was possible to keep all employees and pay them salaries. Motiwala said skilled labourers were the biggest asset, but the government had not established institutions to train labourers.

Farhat Perween, executive director of NOW Communities and a member of the Tripartite Labour Standing Committee, said the COVID-19 pandemic had created problems for workers. She recalled that according to a report over 2.1 families were selling their household items to survive during the lockdown in Pakistan.

The unemployment has surged and a report indicated that 150 million people who were earlier employed have lost their jobs, she said, adding that over 26 per cent of unemployed workers are women and the majority of them are of ages between 35 and 50 years.

She said the Sindh government had issued a COVID-19 Ordinance, which was later made an act, but it was not being implemented and the labour department had not done anything to implement it.

Javed Malik, DRI’s country director, said that human rights should be a mainstream issue. “The textile sector is the main beneficiary, but there are many other sectors in Pakistan which are not taking benefit of the GSP+ scheme,” he said.

Zulfiqar Shah, a labour rights researcher who conducted the session, said that Pakistan’s textile sector was the major beneficiary of the GSP+ scheme. The Incentive of the scheme is conditional that the country should have implemented 27 international conventions.

Dr Riaz Shaikh, dean of Social Sciences at Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology, Rubina Brohi, a member of the Sindh Public Safety and Police Complaint Commission, Kaleem Durrani of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, industrialists Abdul Rahman, Wali Muhammad and Suleman Chawla of the SITE Association of Industry, Zeenia Shaukat of the Ethical Trade Initiative, Saeed Baloch of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Ghulam Mustafa Khoso of the Sami Foundation, Musarrat Jabeen, and Anita Pijjani also spoke on the occasion.