HYDERABAD: Load shedding of gas and electricity has badly affected the livelihood of more than one million glass bangle workers and related people of this sector in Hyderabad, but the government is not ready to solve this very serious human issue, said labour leaders, addressing a crowded press conference here on Tuesday.
They said that the glass bangle industry is considered as the oldest cottage industry of Pakistan providing direct and indirect livelihood to more than one million people. Hyderabad has got a lot of importance being the centre of glass bangle industry. However, the government and related departments are not taking any step for the betterment of the workers of this industry. That is why this industry has been facing a perpetual crisis. Uninterrupted supply of gas is a must for this industry but the gas department keeps gas supply closed for one day a week. Moreover, the low gas pressure is badly affecting furnaces of the glass bangle, halting smooth production process.
Due to the load shedding of electricity and gas on one hand the production process has suffered a lot and on the other the home-based glass bangle workers are facing starvation due to very low wages and delays in payment. The notification of the minimum wages about different types of work of glass bangle industry is yet to be issued. That is why labours in different areas are compelled to work on whatever wages offered by the mill owners or their contractors. These wages are lesser than the minimum wages announced for unskilled workers.
Presently, workers of factories are compelled to toil in very poor working conditions with no facilities of health and safety. They work 12 to 14 hours a day. There is hardly any concept of weekly holiday. The anti-labour contract system has created slavery like situation for workers. These contractors give threats to workers and offer them very low wages. The labour department has failed to correct the wrongdoing. Though the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the Fauji Fertilizers case has given historic verdict by declaring contract system of labour as illegal and also ordered to abolish it, but the factory owners have still continued the illegal contract system, which is against the judgment of the apex court, because they do want to discharge their responsibilities about the rights of labours.
The owners of glass bangle mills are not ready to accept the right of the labours to form their unions and collective bargaining agents, which is violation of local labour laws and basic convention of International Labour Organization (ILO). After the agreement of 1976, no other important agreement has signed for the workers of this industry. Even, the pact of 1976, which was signed in last century, is not being fully implemented.
The workers of glass bangle factories have been facing economic exploitation as well as health problems. The home-based workers, especially women, of this sector have been facing even worse situation. For equal work the wages for women and men workers are different. These rates are also different in different localities. The women home- based workers use their homes as workplaces, and pay their rent, electricity and gas, themselves. According to a survey of the labour department held in collaboration with UN Women about the healthcare of women workers it was found that these women face kidney stone, skin, eye problems, hepatitis A, B, C, and asthma. There basic cause is harmful chemicals, gases, smoke and lack of proper light and ventilation at the home-based workplaces. To improve the lot of home-based women workers the representatives of labours and mill owners had unanimously presented a draft of the home-based labour policy to the government of Sindh, but the government instead its promises is still reluctant to announce this policy, though it was a basic part of its election agenda.
They demanded that:
To save the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of workers of this industry uninterrupted supply of gas should be ensured and this industry should be exempted from the gas load shedding.
The Sindh Wage Board should immediately issue the notification of the minimum wages for the workers of glass bangle industry.
All workers of factories, industries and home-based workers should be registered with social security and EOBI. The government of Sindh should announce the policy about the home-based workers without further delay. Contract system of labour should be abolished from the glass bangle industry. The present labour unions of the glass bangle industry should be recognized as representatives of workers and given right of the collective bargaining. The system of labour inspection should be properly implemented in the glass bangle industry. In Hyderabad, a training centre should be established for the glass bangle workers and they should be provided information about health and safety. In the colonies of labours prolonged load shedding of electricity and gas should be ended and the issuing of inflated energy bills should also be stopped.
Those spoke included Nasir Mansoor deputy General Secretary National Trade Union Federation, Zahra Khan General Secretary Home-based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF), Faisal Qureshi President All Hyderabad Glass Bangle Welding Workers Union, Asif General Secretary All Hyderabad Glass Bangle Welding Workers Union, Shakeela Khan Information Secretary HBWWF and Jameela Abdul Latif General Secretary Home Based Women Bangle Workers Union.