Marking International Labour Day on Saturday, the Hari Welfare Association (HWA) lamented that in the rural areas of Sindh, millions of workers in agriculture and brick kilns are without social security and decent work, including the minimum wage.
HWA head Akram Khaskheli claimed that these workers hardly received Rs6,000 per month in salary against the Rs17,500 minimum wage promised by the Sindh government for unskilled workers in 2019.
The HWA stated that because of unemployment and lack of education and skills, millions of young people were forced to work around 14 hours a day at grocery shops, restaurants, and workshops just for Rs5,000 per month in rural parts of Sindh, and among them were women and girls who picked cotton and chillies but received meagre wages.
Khaskheli said poverty, unemployment, hunger and social and economic injustice pushed people to survive through limited economic opportunities where they were miserably exploited and abused. Due to the increasing shortage of irrigation water in lower parts of the canals, most peasants had turned to the rural labour market where they were paid nominal wages, he added.
He said the Sindh Industrial Relations Act of 2013 recognised rural workers and peasants and provided them to form unions, but the government had not tried to ensure the unionisation of such rural workers, especially in the agriculture sector.
In 2019, the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act (SWAWA) was enacted, but the law has become dormant like any other law enacted since independence.
Khaskheli said that like any other law, the implementation of the SWAWA might play a role to protect peasants and women workers from abuse, exploitation and marginalisation under the feudal and tribal society.
A group of political activists, calling themselves Anarchists Pakistan, held a protest outside the Karachi Press Club to mark International Labour Day.
Speaking to the protesters, group leaders, including William Sadiq, Gul Muhammad Mangi, and Babu Lado, said they were commemorating labour struggles against a host of workers’ rights’ violations, including lengthy workdays and weeks, poor conditions and child labour.
“May 1 was symbolic, commemorating the Haymarket Affair, which took place in Chicago in the United States in 1886,” Sadiq said.
He said workers were united to get the rights enshrined in the constitution. “Industrialists hire the services of labourers and workers while violating international laws and human rights, and the government’s silence has exposed its mentality.”
Earlier this week, the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) had underscored the need to lay down a resilient system of occupational safety and health (OSH) at workplaces in the country, saying that the current system, especially the labour inspection mechanism in the provinces, had failed to ensure the protection of workers’ lives and their wellbeing.
In a statement issued on the occasion of World Day for Safety and Health at Work, Piler Executive Director Karamat Ali regretted that every year hundreds of workers lose their lives while working, especially in coal mines and other industries, in major cities of the country.
World Day for Safety and Health at Work mainly focuses on strategies to strengthen national occupational safety and health (OSH) systems to build resilience in order to face crises now and in the future, drawing on lessons learned and experiences from the world of work.
Citing a recent report quoting Pakistani mineworkers’ unions, at least 208 workers lost their lives in mines of coal and other minerals during 2020, he said.
Pakistan has not yet ratified an important convention of the ILO No. 176 -- Safety and Health in Mines Convention, 1995. “We demand of the government of Pakistan to ratify this convention and make legislation accordingly,” he said.
The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has aggravated the situation of OSH at tworkplaces as the management of the private sector establishments do not observe the standard operating procedures (SOPs); therefore, workers suffer threats to their lives, Ali said, adding that they are the most vulnerable sections of the industrial sectors.
The Piler statement pointed out that in the province of Sindh, a special law called the Sindh Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2017 has been enacted, which exclusively deals with occupational safety and labour inspections at all workplaces. In this regard, a Sindh Occupational Safety and Health Council has been established, which has representatives from employers, employees and technical experts.
Piler demanded of the government to increase the number of labour inspectors and enforce the labour laws effectively.
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