‘Body of experts required to discuss pro-labour laws’


A committee of experts including senior lawyers, legal experts, trade unionists and activists of the civil society should be formed to deliberate on pro-labour laws or amendments in the existing laws, former president of the Sindh High Court Bar Association (SHCBA) Justice (retd) Rasheed A Razvi said on Tuesday. “This step is required particularly after the abolition of the concurrent list as part of the constitutional reforms,” the senior lawyer said while speaking at the inaugural session of the Sindh Labour Conference. The conference was organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) at the PILER Centre.
Razvi said that the recent constitutional reforms have affected at least 130 laws pertaining to labour and no serious work had been carried out previously towards this direction. He pointed out that most labour laws including the Industrial Relations Act 1969 and the Industrial Relations Ordinance 2002 were enacted during dictators’ governments while democratic governments have not made any serious efforts towards labour legislation and welfare.
“Following devolution, all provinces have mainly adopted the Industrial Relations Act 2008 without any major changes, whereas in Punjab, many anti-labour provisions have been introduced in the Industrial Relations Act,” he added. The former SHCBA president observed that the government is still facing a big challenge of transferring the Employees Old age Benefit Institution and Workers Welfare Fund to the provinces. “The federal labour minister actually wanted the federal government to retain these institutions instead of transferring to the provinces because of the lucrative status of these bodies.”
Razvi said that he has filed a petition in the Supreme Court of Pakistan agai4nst the non-transfer of funds to the Sindh Workers Welfare Board. Moreover, he has also challenged illegal appointments in the EOBI as 1,300 employees were inducted without any written test or interviews. “The issue of the registration of national organisations including the Pakistan Railways, the Pakistan International Airlines and the National Bank has still not been solved. There are many other laws, which need to be drafted, but the government remains unconcerned.”
Speaking on the occasion, Central Labour Adviser Javed Gill pointed out that the federal government has formed a Human Resource Development Ministry which would look after the affairs of the Federal Labour Ministry. “The EOBI and the WWF would now come under this new ministry,” he added. He said that under the new arrangement, the role of the central labour adviser would be to look at labour legislation at the provincial level and ensure its enactment according to the ILO Conventions ratified by Pakistan. “Provinces do not have the capacity to make the required laws or bring changes in the existing laws.”
He underlined the need for an increased cooperation among provinces and between provinces and the federal government as both have to play a proactive role to achieve this end. Earlier, PILER Executive Director Karamat Ali observed that three percent workers are unionised, but their ratio has declined to 1.5 percent due to a progressively restricted space for workers rights supervised by successive governments. “Contract workers are denied the legal right of joining trade unions, so formation of general unions of particular sectors is the only way to expand the establishment of the unions,” he said. “The government is not consulting all the stakeholders before preparing any laws.”
He pointed out that the government is bound to convene a tripartite conference before drafting any labour law, but for the last 10 years no tripartite conference has been held in the country. “The present government convened a conference in 2009, which failed because the ruling political party had turned the meeting into a political rally.” He said that the Punjab government has enacted the Industrial Relation Act, which is against ILO conventions and the constitution of Pakistan. “The IRA Punjab allows unionisation right on the condition that the organisation employs 50 workers, whereas that right was earlier accepted in the case of those organisations where 10 or more workers were employed.”
Moreover, he said that the Punjab Act has also reduced the percentage from 25 to 20 for inclusion of outside office-bearers in a particular union. “These provisions are against the fundamental right of the union formation under the Constitution of Pakistan.” Earlier, trade union representatives from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan gave an overview of the industrial relations laws in these provinces. Qamar Hayat Khan from KP said that only a small number of workers in his province have the right of joining a trade union. “Like in other parts of the country, most of the workers in KP are working in the informal sector, having extremely limited access to social security institutions,” he added.
He said that only two percent of workers in KP are registered with the EOBI, whereas the total number of workers registered with the provincial social security institutions is 55,000. Sultan Mohammad from Balochistan said that the majority of workers of his province do not have access to the EOBI and other welfare schemes. “The deteriorating law and order situation in the province has severely affected employment opportunities,” he added.
He also drew attention to the industrial relations laws, saying that confusion remains over its content and status.