A consultation of social protection for home-based workers expressed concern about the lack of social protection to millions of home workers in Pakistan, particularly in the province of Sindh, and demanded proper and effective legislation to protect these hapless workers.
The consultation was arranged by Home-based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) at a local hotel and attended by the representatives of home-based and formal workers, officials of labour-related government departments, representative of ILO, and senior trade union leaders.
In her opening remarks, Home-based Women Worker Saira Feroz shed light on the plight of home-based women workers in Sindh. She said the wages of home-based women workers are even less than the government-fixed minimum wages, despite the fact that they toil for long hours along with their children. Some garment and stitching workers hardly get Rs. 120 a day. Women HBWs even do not get equal pay as compared to their male counterparts. These workers do not have any facility of workplace health and safety. They do not have social security cover of any kind. They live and work at the same place and in some vocations their work involve handling harmful smoke, acids and chemicals that play havoc with not only their health but also the health of their spouses and children.
Feroz suggested organising home-based workers in unions to get rid of their social and economic exploitation. There is a need to raise a voice and increase networking of HBWs with other labour unions and federations so that they can get their due rights. Home-based workers need to form their unions and CBAs in every city and town. They should work on one platform so that their voice is heard. A proper policy for home-based workers and a comprehensive law to protect their rights is the need of the hour.
Ali Ashraf Naqvi, Joint Director, Labour Department, Government of Sindh, said they have already drafted a policy for home-based workers, and it has been awaiting the approval of the cabinet for two years. He explained keys guidelines of the policy and the definitions of home-based workers and employers. He said under the policy a provincial council will be formed for the home-based workers, chaired by a representative of the provincial government.
He said the provincial government of Sindh is committed to facilitate the home-based workers. He said the government of Sindh has also constituted a cabinet committee to evolve a mechanism for covering the HBW in social security net. This committee is comprised of Sindh minister for parliamentary affaire Dr Sikander Mandhro, minister for women development Rubina Qaimkhani, minister for fisheries and livestock Jam Khan Shoro, special assistant to Sindh chief minister of culture Sharmila Faruqi and adviser to chief minister on labour Asghar Ali Khan Junejo.
Workers Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan Chairman Ahsanullah Khan stressed the need of joint efforts for the recognition of the home-based workers as workers under labour laws. He suggested establishing a council for home-based worker, chaired by non-governmental side. He asked to hold meetings with the cabinet committee for brainstorming and lobbying with them on the issues related to home-based workers within two weeks. He advised to constitute a technical committee to discuss on the HBW-related issues, especially regarding their legal recognition, wages and social protection.
Khan suggested organising skill-building trainings for HBW (as many of them get training from their family members in their vocations) and the need for capacity building. He said his organisation has already contacted many technical institutions to arrange proper training for their workers.
NTUF President Rafiq Baloch said that in the proposed law, the definitions of ‘contractor’ and ‘home-based worker’ should be exhaustive. He said the HBWs are paid through third party contractors and they should be brought into the ambit of the law. He said that for many people and even government officials there is no clear concept of a home-based worker. They confuse the domestic workers as the home-based workers. He said the real work would start after the policy approval with the beginning of registration of the HBW. He said this registration would provide a valuable data, which is very important at every level. He also emphasised on the struggle of home-based workers along with the workers of formal sectors.
Nasir Mansoor, Deputy General Secretary of NTUF, said that we have to start work in the areas where we all have reached consensus. He said it is necessary to start lobbying with government officials and make them aware of the issues pertaining to the HBWs. The conditions have changed now and the definitions, drafts and policies of the past could not cater to the present needs. He said we have to make new frameworks keeping in mind the prevailing scenario of our formal and informal labour sectors. He suggested this while defining what a ‘worker’ means.