Monday December 11, 2023

Labour rights

By Editorial Board
September 26, 2022

On the 10th anniversary of the devastating Baldia factory fire in which hundreds of workers died, labour leaders, heads of trade unions and other persons involved with what is a faltering labour movement in Pakistan, once again reminded people that there are no safety regulations in factories even now. The situation remains just the same as it was at the time of the Baldia inferno in which so many workers became trapped because there were no fire exits. To add to this, the perpetrators have not been fully punished and there are accusations from labour leaders that money sent in by the German factory which ordered the clothing manufactured in the factory has not been distributed to the heirs of those who died.

This is of course not an individual or unique story. In workplaces across the country, labour laws are simply not followed and labour inspectors are bribed by owners to give a clearance even when the most basic safety steps are not in place. The situation in the informal sector such as mines is even worse. Workers have no option to go to the labour courts to resolve their grievances. The absence of unions and the lack of formal work means that the courts will not recognize many as legitimate workers. The hostage situation in this factory is a mirror of the hostage situation that Pakistan’s workers find themselves in. This is exactly why organized unions that represent workers are absolutely necessary. Not only would they be able to ensure that basic rights, such as wages and regularity of work, are maintained, but they could also ensure that safety conditions and social security guarantees from the government are implemented.

Pakistan must also sign international labour conventions and follow rules that have been set for workers around the world. At the present moment, Pakistan’s labourers are simply wage dead. They have no rights, they have no safety, and they have no one in their corner. What is more important is for lawmakers to reflect on the kind of environment for workers that we have created in this country. If Pakistan is to go towards the path of development, it is the worker that must be considered its backbone. The state needs to ensure that workers get a right to collective bargaining as well as their due rights – which includes workplace safety. Many promises have been made to strengthen labour inspections in Pakistan – but this is not an issue that can be tackled without a public campaign led by the highest officials in the country.