Home Human Rights Labor Representatives Reject ILO’s Sindh Labor Code Proposal

Labor Representatives Reject ILO’s Sindh Labor Code Proposal

Labor Representatives Reject ILO’s Sindh Labor Code Proposal

Labor representatives accuse ILO of legalizing contractual system and imposing anti-labor laws in Sindh

Intervention by PPP leadership and formation of 15-member committee to review the code and strategizing further actions demanded

Karachi, Sindh

Representatives from various labor organizations across the country have unanimously rejected the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) proposal for the Sindh Labor Code, which provided legal cover to different forms of the contractual employment system.

A consultation meeting of labor representatives on the “Sindh Labor Code” was organized by the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) at a local hotel on Saturday.

The meeting expressed concerns that the ILO representatives and the Sindh labor department had termed this proposal a milestone in the labor struggle during their meeting with the Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah. The participants said that labor representatives were not consulted in the preparation of this proposal and declared that no labor legislation would be accepted without their consultation.

The meeting demanded that Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and the Sindh Chief Minister should intervene and take effective measures to stop this attack on labor rights. They warned that a similar labor code would be presented in other provinces and called on labor representatives in those provinces to oppose these anti-labor clauses. They stated that the labor code was proposed on the pretext of consolidating more than 20 labor laws, but this was merely an act to provide legal cover to the dangerous and anti-labor contract system, which is condemnable.

NTUF Secretary General Nasir Mansoor criticized the ILO for hiring consultants from Australia, Russia, and other countries to propose amendments to labor laws without consulting most labor organizations. He said that the labor code, presented as a plausible act by international consultants, was illegal according to both international and local laws.

Labor-1 Sindh Courier-1He added that the proposal aimed to make the contract system legal, without considering that many children work as laborers in factories and other workplaces. He warned that if the proposal was not opposed, it would deprive workers of their right to fight against the contract system and pave the way for privatization and flexible employment practices pushed forward by neoliberalism, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

A representative from the Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC) said that the process initiated by an August 2023 notification was ambiguous and kept secret. He emphasized that codes are compilations of laws on specific subjects and pointed out the differences between proposed codes and proposed laws. “The SHRC would invite its own technical experts to write to the government, stating that there is no provision in the law to enact this labor code,” he said, highlighting contradictions in the definitions of workers and children, among others, and declared the proposal legally untenable.

Qamar ul Hassan of The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations expressed reservations over the process, questioning why labor representatives were not consulted and why the tripartite commission was not approached. He stressed that the right of association is universal and fundamental and cannot be curtailed or changed. He called for a comprehensive review before any advancement in labor laws and emphasized the need for clear and simple language in the proposed code.

State Bank of Pakistan’s labor leader Liaquat Sahi criticized the involvement of provincial labor departments in formulating the proposed code and described it as a charge sheet against the PPP government in Sindh. He accused the ILO of acting as the front man for employers in the region and warned that the proposed law would undermine the trade union movement. He suggested out rightly rejecting the proposed code instead of proposing counter-legislation.

Farhat Parveen, Executive Director of NOW Communities, proposed that trade union representatives review each law considering relevant ILO conventions and form committees to address different aspects of the law. She highlighted the absence of corresponding labor laws regarding women and suggested that trade unions draft their own proposals for improvement.

Mir Zulfiqar Ali of Public Service International said that a similar labor code was proposed in Bangladesh by the ILO, but the trade unions have been rejecting it and leading a campaign. He opined that the whole labor code should not be out rightly rejected, but only the clauses that are against the workers. He said that the ILO has been leading a conspiracy to weaken the power of trade unions. He emphasized that trade unionists need to engage in dialogue with other stakeholders and provide an alternative point of view instead of just engaging in protest. A response should be prepared collectively clause by clause.

Read: Labor Day Rally Demands Living Wage for Workers in Pakistan

Zehra Khan of the Home Based Women Workers Federation emphasized the need for clarity in three key definitions: worker, which has become increasingly significant with the rise of the gig economy; employer; and establishment. Khan suggested that workers’ representatives should call on the Sindh CM. She also agreed that a protest demonstration should be held outside the CM House and Sindh Assembly, asserting that the code should be out rightly rejected. Khan urged participants to consider how due diligence laws could be made effective and relevant, especially since the Pakistan Accord has already been established. She concluded by emphasizing that the complaint mechanism needs to be driven by workers.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s Qazi Khizer extended his support to the workers, noting that there are 56,155 cases pending in the Supreme Court, over 300,000 in the High Courts, and 2.2 million in all courts, resulting in a very slow dispensation of justice. He pointed out that 28 bills were presented in the National Assembly and passed without any debate. Khizer stated that powerful quarters of the state are backing such legislations. He assured that the HRCP would support the workers in their struggle.

The meeting concluded with demands for strengthening the tripartite mechanism and ensuring that labor representatives are consulted in all labor legislation processes. At the end of the meeting, a 15-member committee was formed to review the Sindh Labor Code. Those who were made part of the committee included Mansoor, Khan, Parveen, Sahi, Hussain Badshah, Rahib Samejo, Khurshid Abbasi, among others. (PR)

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