The need to rethink our labour inspection management information system
Not a single day passes without wasting lives of labourers engaged in hazardous work conditions. The fast swelling number of accidents that can be enumerated from newspapers remains a matter of routine occurrence for us, at least apparently. After these tragic accidents, family’s privately battle with grief and deprivation. Since these deaths hardly attract the attention of the ruling elites, they also expose our deep class division. Consequently, the capacity of statuary institutions to prevent these horrific infringements remains limited. An effective labour inspection system remains conspicuous in its absence.
Pakistan has an industrial landscape that for now is being inspected by around 450 inspecting staff countrywide. This is a far below required human resource allocation, and hence effects the capability of these officials to carry out quality inspection of industrial establishments.
Also, the infrastructure currently installed in terms of the labour inspection system at the provincial level does not offer opportunities to leverage modern labour inspection methodologies. This limits data collection and reporting options that could bring labour infringements to the fore. The lack of a data management system within our labour inspection machinery leaves us incapable of monitoring the entire operation of labour inspection.
The role of Information Technology in boosting productivity of public functions is evidently established within a post-modern socio-economic milieu and this also holds true for in the industrial landscape. Pakistan’s public sector is also in a fast-pace transition towards digitalisation of public functions due to substantial E-Governance initiatives that have been put in place. However, similar to the public sectors of other developing economies, we are also not an exception since at a national scale we remain enormously challenged by structural and resource constraints which prevent us from adopting of new technologies.
There is dire need for technological implantation through transformational solutions within the labour inspection regime of the country, on the pretext of improving the outreach and quality of labour inspection function. However, given the wide landscape that Pakistan’s labour inspection machinery has to cover, the digitalisation of labour inspection is challenging due to lack of adequate institutional infrastructure and organisational capacities. Resultantly, the effective coverage of labour inspection remains largely limited. An enormous number of labour infringements, catastrophic industrial accidents and reporting challenges are all outcomes of our sparsely installed labour inspection machinery.
The ILO’s Conventions on Labour Inspection including C-81, requires state parties to regularly prepare and submit periodic reports. What we require is a comprehensive labour inspection management information system that enables the labour inspectorates to create a comprehensive database containing vital and reliable information. This also requires the leverage of a centralised platform through which the labour inspectorates can prepare and submit the ILO reports. Also, the digitalisation of the labour inspection system is viewed instrumental in enhancing the outreach and quality of labour inspection function by offering technology-based labour inspection tools and improving reporting mechanisms. In turn, this will ensure monitoring of compliance of international labour standards by bringing infringements to attention.
A well-designed labour inspection management information system could contribute to the improvement of strategic planning, decision making and monitoring within the labour inspection machinery. Such a system can facilitate the collection and analysis of data and information which in turn can assist identification and prioritisation of the areas, sectors and particular risk factors that require attention of labour inspection.
There are good examples in this arena not only from around the world but also from Punjab that could be used as a replicable model. The Punjab Labour Department’s Labour Inspection Management Information System could be used as a starting point for the development of similar platforms in other provinces/regions. Punjab’s Labour Inspection Management Information System is a web based platform that offers technology based field-level inspection, reporting and data management. This system however is yet to be utilised to its fullest potential since that would require investment in enhancing technical and institutional competencies.
It is therefore pertinent for other provinces/regions to consider developing their respective Labour Inspection Management Information Systems and Punjab could be requested to allow a replication of its system. In order to have a centralised national level interface of provincial/regional labour inspection management information systems, a centrally positioned government institution should be designated as convener of this much sought after intervention. However, innovative solutions within labour inspection would require the commitment of statuary institutions and any ambitions in this regard could only succeed by putting in place adequate institutional infrastructure at the provincial and federal level.