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October 26, 2020

‘Inhumane contract system has turned textile workers into slaves’

October 26, 2020

Pakistan has ratified over 38 International Labour Organisation conventions, but 70 million plus workforce in the country still lacks basic rights, giving the impression that Pakistan is among the countries where labour laws are routinely violated, labour leaders said at a convention on Sunday.

Organised by the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), the Textile Garment Workers Convention was held in the Korangi Industrial Area. It was presided over by NTUF Sindh President Gul Rehman and attended by a large number of workers, according to a press release issued by the federation.

The speakers said that workers in the textile and garment sector earn over 60 per cent of the national foreign exchange, but they are toiling in factories where working conditions are worse than slavery. They said that without giving the workers their due rights, the country cannot progress and democracy cannot flourish.

NTUF General Secretary Nasir Mansoor said that millions of workers in the textile and garment sector are deprived of their basic rights. “Less than one per cent Pakistani workers enjoy the right to form labour unions and elect collective bargaining agents. Less than five per cent are registered with social security and pension institutions.”

He said that over 90 per cent of industrial and other organisations are not even registered with the related labour institutions. Minimum wages for unskilled workers are not being paid even to skilled workers, he added.

“Only three per cent workers have received written appointment letters, while in the textile and garment sector, the illegal and inhumane contractual work system is in vogue,” said Mansoor, adding that this system has turned the workers into slaves.

He claimed that local factories working for international brands are forcing their labour to work 200 hours overtime a month for the wages of only 48 hours, which is clearly illegal.

National Labour Council convener Karamat Ali said workers are being forced to toil in unsafe working conditions, with industrial mishaps becoming the order of the day. “We haven’t learned any lesson from the tragedy of the Baldia factory fire, in which over 260 workers were killed.”

He claimed that the National Industrial Relations Commission has become a murderer of labourers, and is now attacking provincial autonomy. He called for the commission to be abolished as soon as possible.

Peoples Labour Bureau chief Habibuddin Junaidi said that it is a serious matter that labour laws exist but are not being implemented. He said that all institutions should play their due role in the proper implementation of the labour laws.

He also said that these institutions were made to safeguard the interests of labourers, but unfortunately, they are safeguarding the interests of the industrialists instead.

Home-Based Women Workers Federation General Secretary Zahra Khan said that worsening working conditions and prolonged labour hours in textile and garment factories are not only violations of the local labour laws but are also against the GSP Plus agreement.

She claimed that international fashion brands have adopted a criminal silence over the issue and they continue to earn billions of rupees. She said that these brands are also fooling their buyers in Europe and North America.

“These brands had promised with the Global Framework Agreement that the local factories making products for them would allow their workers to form labour unions, besides providing them with better wages, better working conditions and social security, but their local factories are still sweatshops.”

Other speakers included Owais Jatoi, Ghulam Nabi, Aqib Hussain, Shah Faisal and Rehmat Baloch. On the occasion, the NTUF’s office-bearers for the Korangi Industrial Area were also elected. The convention demanded that all workers be given the right to form their labour unions and elect their collective bargaining agents. They also demanded written appointment letters for all workers.

They said workers should be registered with social security and pension institutions, adding that the cards of these institutions must be issued to the workers directly. They also asked for unskilled workers to be paid minimum wages in accordance with the announcement of the government.

They demanded legal action against all factories forcing their labour to work more than 48 hours a week. They also demanded the introduction of proper labour inspection systems in place of anti-workers private social auditing.

They said factory owners should be barred from using the law enforcement agencies in case of industrial disputes. Industries, especially in the textile and garment sector, should be provided with gas and electricity subsidies, they added.

They demanded the revival of the zero-rating system. They also demanded the establishment of modern labour colonies in Korangi, SITE and other industrial zones on government expenses.

They said roads should be repaired and a proper public transport system must be provided in all the industrial zones of Karachi. They also said that health and education facilities should be provided in the neighbourhoods of workers.