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Pakistan: The State Should Not Turn a Blind Eye To Workers Rights Violations

Revoke the Ban on Labour Inspections

by Niaz Khan, 2 May 2009

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The News

Friday, May 01, 2009

THE prime minister of Pakistan in his first address to the nation on March 28, 2008 said that non-skilled labourers will get minimum Rs 6,000. This was formally announced in June 2008 budget and a notification to this effect was also issued. Labourers were to get at least Rs 6,000 for from July 1 onwards.

For the first time, there was such a huge increase in minimum wages - from Rs 4,600 to Rs 6,000. While government organisations gave their employees the announced raise, industrial and business organisations did not do it except where trade unions were strong. Such organisations were less than 10 per cent.

There are industries and organisations which were not even paying the previous minimum wages and started paying that after the announcement of new wage.

The government makes announcements but there is no way to implement them. It is up to the owners of industries and business concerns to raise the pay or not. Five years ago there was a way to check that. An officer of the Ministry of Labour could go and ask an employer or the factory manager if they were paying minimum wages or following labour laws. The government of Pervez Elahi, however, put an end to labour inspection and banned the entry of labour officer to factories. So factory workers were left at the mercy of employers. In no other province there is a ban on labour inspection.

Three months after the government’s announcement to put an end to labour inspection, the National Trade Union Federation called a rally to demand implementation of minimum wages. Among those who were in this rally were Rustam Sohrab Cycle and Motorcycle Factory CBA workers union, the Federal Labour Movement Faisalabad, the Ittehad Labour Union Carpet Industry Pakistan, Shaheen Power Looms Labour Union, Rahim Yar Khan, Pakistan Bhatta Mazdoor Union, New Khan Metro Bus Service Labour and Staff Union CBA, Employees Union Adam Sugar Mills Chishtian CBA, Ittehad Power Looms Workers Union Kasur, the Labour Party of Pakistan, the Labour Education Foundation and many trade unions.

In a meeting held in September 2008, they decided to form a trade union action committee for implementation of minimum wage. The Labour Education Foundation (LEF) published a poster in October which was distributed in factory and business areas of Lahore, Sheikhupura, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Multan, Bahawalnagar, Rahim Yar Khan and Rawalpindi. The poster was meant was to inform all workers/labourers that the government had fixed minimum wages at Rs 6,000 and that they should contact LEF if they were getting less than that. Phone numbers of four committee members were given namely, Niaz Khan from Lahore, Aslam Mairaj from Faisalabad, Syed Abid Hussain from Rahim Yar Khan and Rana Tahir Pervez from Bahawalnagar. It was learnt through this campaign that many workers were being paid Rs 3,200 and Rs 3,500 a month.

The National Labour Movement in Faisalabad demanded raise in wages in the power loom industry. Then came demand from workers of the same industry in Rahim Yar Khan, Multan and Kasur where labourers were getting Rs 2,800 and Rs 3,300. At this, employers raised salaries to Rs 4,500. Likewise, in Adam Sugar Mills Chishtian, salaries were raised from Rs 2,700 to Rs 5,000 in October 2008.

On receiving a good number of phone calls, comrades asked me to write letters to owners of all those factories and business concerns from where we had received calls and ask them to implement minimum wage and send copies of letters to the Punjab labour secretary, the Punjab labour director and district labour officers. I then wrote a letter to nearly 150 factories and organisations, including Quaid-e-Azam Industrial Estate Kot Lakhpat, Sheikhupura Road, Raiwind garments and hosiery factories, shoes factories, carpet factories, pharmaceuticals, steel mills, power looms, embroidery factories, industrial organisations, Coca Cola and Gourmet Bakers. It was demanded that these units give minimum wages to their workers. A copy of letters along with the request for implementation of minimum wage was sent to officials. Some government organisations were also sent letters such as the Punjab University, Punjab Bank, the Punjab Horticulture Authority (PHA) and Habib Bank.

As a result, some factories and organisations raised salaries to Rs 6,000 and some employers increased salaries but also increased work timings to 12 hours. In December, the committee wrote a letter to the president, the prime minister, the federal labour minister, the Punjab chief minister, and the Lahore High Court chief justice. The government, however, had not taken any step to rectify the problem so far. Rather many workers demanding raise in salaries were fired. Two of these factories are on Sheikhupura Road and two are in Quaid-e-Azam Industrial Estate Kot Lakhpat.

(The writer, Niaz Khan, heads the Trade Union Action Committee for Minimum Wages)