Asian Food Worker Frontpage

Legislative Trickery Wipes Away Trade Union Rights in Pakistan

At a press conference held on the 27th of June at the Karachi Press Club, nine trade union organisations, including the IUF-affiliated Pakistan Hotel Workers Federation, denounced recent legal changes which strip workers in Pakistan of fundemental labour rights. Moreover, the changes are the result of a Finance Bill, which deprives Pakistan's Senate from any chance to scrutinise or amend the law. For the interests of readers we post below the press statement released at the conference.

Dear Friends in Media,

First of all we would like to thank all of you for coming to attend this Press Conference on a very short notice.

We would like to draw your attention to a very important issue concerning 52 million workers of the country.

As you are aware, the federal government has recently announced increase in working hours both in daily work and over time; it has allowed employers to get female workers to work in factories till 10 pm in two shifts, and has legalized the so-called contract work.

Interestingly, these fundamental changes in the laws have been made through the Finance Bill passed during the last budget session of the National Assembly; procedures provided under the constitution for amendments in any Act of the Parliament have thus been violated, as the Senate is not allowed to discuss the Finance Bill. We consider the changes inhuman, against national and international norms, in violation of international labour laws, and the ILO Conventions and against the will and spirit of the Constitution of Pakistan, and the procedure adopted for amendments is totally unconstitutional and illegal. The changes will result in an even more intensified labour exploitation especially that of the already marginalized, the poorest of the poor.

We believe that these changes have been made under prescription of World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other International Financial Institutions (IFIs), which would only benefit big multinationals and industrialists.

The government has made amendments in following laws:

• Factories Act 1934
Shops and Establishment Ordinance, 1969
West Pakistan Industrial & Commercial Employment (Standing Orders) Ordinance 1968
Workers Welfare Fund Ordinance, 1971
Employees Old-age Benefits (EOBI) Act 1976

By amending the Shops and Establishment Ordinance 1969, the government has increased daily working hours from 8 to 12 hours. Similarly the compulsory closed weekly holiday has also been abolished, and through an amendment in Section 38 and 45 of the Factories Act has allowed the employers to make female workers work till 10 pm in two shifts. Earlier, female workers were barred from working in factories before sun rise and after sun set. A new category of “contract worker” has been added in the West Pakistan Standing Orders Ordinance 1968. Such workers will not be entitled to the legal compensation for overtime work. In addition the duration of the overtime work has been increased from 150 hours to 624 hours a year for adult and from 100 hours to 468 hours for young persons.

According to the federal labour ministry these changes have been made to benefit the workers and to encourage the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). However, in reality they will have serious adverse implications for the society in general and working people in particular.

Changes in basic structure of work-life for workers
Removal of legal protections
Extension in working time
Reduction in overtime compensation
Vulnerability of women workers
Increase in poverty
Further deterioration in physical health conditions of working communities
Intense mental and social disorder

Since the provincial governments by excessive use of their powers have banned Inspections provided in the Factories Act 1934, which is again a major violation of the Constitution, therefore no inspection is conducted these days. Hence, these changes will lead to further violation of labour rights, and will adversely impact upon condition of work, working conditions and health and safety of workers. Besides, these changes will also severely curtail workers’ capacity to resist exploitative conditions.

Take the example of increase in working hours. If you increase working hours to 12 and add two to three hours for commuting then the working period for a day will range between 14-15 hours. In absence of adequate wages, people tend to work more resulting in self exploitation. This will badly affect the physical and mental health of the labour force which is already malnourished. Workers had given sacrifices and it was after long struggle that they achieved the right to eight hours a day work and now pushing them back to 17th century inhuman working hours has no justification even in the name of increasing workers income. If the government is serious to increase workers income then it should ensure adequate wages, decent working conditions and fair labour practices. Government should by enforcing the minimum wage of Rs. 4, 000 for all workers including piece rate workers for a maximum 8 working hours a day and 6-day week

Similarly, changing laws to make female labour work till 10 pm in two shifts is also an exploitative step and will result in serious problems for female workers. The original law had barred women’s work in factories after sunset giving consideration to socio- cultural situation of women in our societies. After the amendment employers will have right to ask women workers to stay till 10 pm in two shifts. If you add commuting time then it means female workers will be getting back home around 11-12 midnight. The logic behind not allowing women work after sunset was that they can also look after kids and take care of household chores. The new timings will result in conflict between work and home life. Besides, it will result in family disputes as many people would not allow women to be out of home till late night.

The legalization of contract work with no overtime will result in a situation where a large number of people will work as temporary employee forever; workers who work on piece rate will especially suffer due to this change.

Enormous increase in overtime work durations is not only inhuman in nature but will slow down new job opportunities as those on job will work more and more to meet their needs. The limit of 150 hours over time per year was made while keeping in mind human capacity of workers but now when the government has increased it to 624 hours a year that means it considers workers machines not humans. Similarly, increase in over time hours from 100 hours to 468 hours for young persons (age 16-18) who make a lager portion of workforce will affect younger generation and restrict their opportunity to study after work.

As we all know that overtime is not paid according to laws which is double of gross salary, workers will be compelled to spend more hours at work on lower wages. The situation will be similar that of 17th and 18th centuries when factories were like prisons and workers were forced to spend unlimited time inside them.

The government has also made changes in the operation and coverage of Workers Welfare Fund and EOBI (Employees Old Age Benefit Institution) which we think is illegal as these institutions are supposed to be autonomous and therefore should be allowed to devise their own policies and rules. The fact that the registration with the EOBI will from now on be compulsory only for establishments employing 20 or more workers will drastically curtail its applicability and will also deprive millions of workers from of a fundamental right. The government has no right to make arbitrary changes and amendments in these institutions.

Rules and Procedures to amend any particular law [s] or Act of the Parliament having larger public implications are already provided in the Constitution and Rules of Business of both upper and lower houses i. e. Senate and National Assembly.

We believe that the government by effecting these amendments through the Finance Bill has not only violated the constitution of Pakistan, rules and procedures of business for the parliament, but it has also undermined supremacy and authority of the Senate of Pakistan.

We assert that the government is not entitled to make fundamental changes in these basic laws. And to include such changes in the Finance Bill is patently illegal. We also believe that even if proper amendment procedure were adhered to, the government can not effect such changes as will alter the basic structure of the industrial relations governing people’s working lives.

It is pertinent to point out that even when the Supreme Court allowed General Musharaf the right to amend the Constitution, it barred him from making any fundamental changes in the structure of the Constitution. The recent Supreme Court judgment on privatization has reasserted the right of citizens to basic constitutional protections.

We think that the government is playing in the hands of international monetary institutions, on which it depends for heavy loans, and exploiting its own people.

We reject these changes and demand the government to withdraw these amendments. Besides, all such labour laws including IRO 2002 which put restriction on the basic rights of workers including freedom of association and right to collective bargaining should also be withdrawn.

We also demand universal implementation of an adequate and realistic minimum wage that reflects rapid erosion in purchasing power because of faulty government policy.

Ensuring decent work with adequate time for leisure and end to exploitation including bonded labour and child labour is also the Constitutional responsibility of the state.

We thank you all for attending the press conference, and hope you will take up this issue in your writings and stories. We welcome questions.


Karamat Ali

Syed Iqbal Haider, Advocate
Secretary General
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)

Other Participants

Pakistan Workers Confederation Sindh
Mutahida Labour Federation (MLF) Sindh
All Pakistan Textile Workers Union
All Pakistan Bhutta Mazdoor Union
All Pakistan Trade Union Federation
All Pakistan Textile Workers Union
All Road Transport Workers Union Pakistan
Pakistan Hotel Workers Federation
National Federation of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Workers