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Pakistan: PILER Welcomes Amendment in Services Tribunal Act and Repeal of Removal from Services Order

by PILER, 7 March 2010

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Press Statement

Karachi, March 6, 2010

Calls for Speedy Efforts to Fix Anomalies in Labour Legislation and Law Implementation

The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research has welcomed the government’s move to repeal the Removal from Services (Special Powers) Ordinance 2000 and amend the Services Tribunal Act.

“These legislative measures should help in addressing anomalies in the labour rights and legislative structure that have, over the years, undermined the fundamental entitlements of workers in Pakistan. At the same time, there are huge gaps in the rights structure pertaining to labour, and the government is expected to expedite legislative and institutional acts to cover these loopholes,” said Executive Director PILER Mr Karamat Ali.

Mr Karamat Ali said that the two acts repealed and amended by the Government address employees of government, and government-controlled corporation services. “While these modifications are important to ensure rights to government employees, there has been no move to compensate the victims of these draconian laws, nor has the government made any effort to extend similar protections to private sector employees.”

The PILER Executive Director also pointed out that the current government’s pace on labour legislation is slow and demonstrates a non-committal approach. “There are a large number of legislative, policy and institutional measures undertaken by non-democratic governments in the last three decades. These include denial of right to form association and right to collective bargaining for an overwhelming majority of the working population. As a result, less than 2% of workforce is unionized at the moment. Similarly, Section 27-B in the Banking Companies Ordinance 1962 that prohibits a non-employee to hold the office in the executive of a trade union, has severely curtailed the right of association of workers in the banking sector. Regular inspection of factories has been discontinued since Ziaul-Haq’s period, resulting in non compliance with basic labour laws and severely compromising workers health and safety.”

Mr Karamat Ali said that the democratic government has been in office for two years now, and it is backed by popular mandate to carry out reforms in the legislative and institutional structures to fix distortions in labour rights. “Yet, this government has presented a disappointing record of labour legislation. Neither the law-making exercise, nor the law-implementation measures fit the standards of a balanced rights and justice delivery system. No labour policy has been announced by the government in the past two years. Even though the present government has replaced the notorious Industrial Relations Ordinance 2002 with the new Industrial Relations Act (IRA) 2008, the reservations of trade unions and rights bodies regarding the IRA, including the non-consultative manner of its formulation, was never addressed. The IRA is set to lapse next month, but there has been no indication from the government to keep its pledge of replacing it with a better law. No tripartite consultation on labour legislation and policy issues has been carried out. The one held in February 2009 lacked a broad-based character and remained restricted in its scope and mandate. Out of total labour force of over 50 million in Pakistan, only 6.62 million workers benefit from the formal social protection schemes of any form. In the last few years, child labour and bonded labour has registered an increase, while the rural-based labour force continues to stay outside the ambit of legal protections. The Government’s policy of minimum wage too remains unimplemented in 90 percent of the cases where workers receive abysmally low salaries in the face of spiraling inflation, pushing a large number of people below the poverty line every day.”

Mr Karamat Ali stressed that Pakistan is a signatory to ILO Conventions and has an obligation to adhere to the core ILO Conventions and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work in legislation and policy-making. “The sluggish pace demonstrated by the government in implementing the ILO Conventions in letter and spirit is deeply disappointing.”

The PILER Executive Director called for repeal of the Section 27-B in the Banking Companies Ordinance, 1962, and the reformulation of the IRA. He also urged the government to compensate the victims of unjust labour policies. “Absence of legislation on rural labour is further alienating the vulnerable sections of the society, while non-implementation of policy measures on child labour and bonded labour compromises their status in the social order. The Government should now launch a formal labour policy and demonstrate serious commitment to carrying out institutional reforms to extend labour protections and rights to the workforce of Pakistan. We cannot expect democracy to deliver unless legislative and law implementation efforts are stepped up to cover all sections of the labour force.”