Activists call to launch effective labour movement

Karachi: Humanitarian and rights activists, belong to the organizations dealing with disasters and floods have endorsed the initiative to launch an effective labour movement to bring social change in the country.

While discussing the apathetic role of the state institutions and irresponsive approach of the civil society actors, they linked the issue of land reforms, social security, rural development and social insecurity to the initiation of a strong social movement.

They were discussing at different sessions of two-day partners meeting: “A review of interventions, campaigns and movements for advocating the structural reforms agenda,” organized by Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) at its centre here on Wednesday.

The meeting attracted economists, agriculturists, representatives of humanitarian organizations, labour activists from Punjab, Khyber Pukhtoon Khuwa (KPK) and Balochistan provinces to share their learning pre-and post flood interventions and their achievements.

The speakers included renowned economist and former Advisor to Sindh Chief Minister on planning and development Dr Kaiser Bengali, former chief economist Dr Pervez Tahir, Iqbal Detho of Save the Children, PILER Executive Director Karamat Ali, writer Zulfiqar Halepoto, Suleman Abro, President Sindh Agriculture, Forestry Workers Coordinating Organisation (SAFWCO), Jamil Junejo of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), Zulfiqar Shah, Zeenia Shaukat, Parial Mari and others.

Dr Kaiser Bengali spoke about the land distribution criteria in Sindh and its economic and political implications. He shared changes in the status of the land, which can be witnessed in different districts of the country. He said for a research study for PILER he had visited seven districts of the country, including three in Sindh for looking at the land holding status.

“We witnessed the dominant role of feudal lords in Shikarpur district while looking into the situation in the three districts of — Thatta and Dadu– during the PILER study,” he said, adding that “we saw the increasing trend of land leasing in Rahimyar Khan in southern Punjab and Charsadda in KPK where corporate farming is being promoted through lease of lands.

“There is diminishing sharecropping and workers are being paid low wages on daily basis. Leasees hire seasonal workers on daily wages. They have proper management like corporate with qualification of graduates who look after their entire system, to see products and use of agriculture machinery,” he shared.

Responding to questions of the participants, Bengali said there is need to raise slogans against absentee landholding in Sindh and Balochistan, who are not on the ground but get major share of crops. Similar is the status in Southern Punjab, where too the role of landlords is not farmer-friendly.

The agriculture workers can be organized in trade union. In Sindh the concept of leasing of land has not popularized but there is no limit of land holding in the province.

“If we cannot mobilise and organize rural workforce we should force the government to promote urbanization and create more job opportunities for the rural workforce,” he suggested.

Dr. Bengali said there is a Goth Abad Scheme, which is not being implemented because the landlords have overall control on the local landholding system in rural areas. He also pointed out that presently new landlords have emerged because of political manoeuvring and gathering of corruption money. Bureaucrats and parliamentarians have purchased agriculture lands and they easily declare the area of their constituencies and contest elections because land is used for political power.

Dr Pervez Tahir, former Chief Economist said that on one side there are powerful groups, which are involved in exploitation, while on the other side there are poor, disorganized workforce. There is no concept of unions to mobilize these masses.

Discussing on social security, he pointed out that after 18th amendment in the Constitution the social security has come under the provincial governments’ jurisdiction. Health insurance of all employees is a must, not only in the government, but in private sector organizations as well.

He pointed out the crisis of governance and said presently Thar is facing drought-like situation because all the relevant departments and organizations are unable to play their role.

For example, food was available, but question was that who will distribute. Who is issuing warning call in case of emergency? These all questions needed to be answered.

Karamat Ali, Executive Director of PILER said land reforms is a solution to remove vulnerabilities. Those living on lands should have sense of right to land, which they cultivate through generations and they should join the campaign and raise voice for getting their rights.

He asked participants to see the land reforms as an issue in broader perspective.

He said that influential people, who also have political powers are hindering the land reforms process in the country. National question is linked to only elite class and it does not have any link to the common people. Those people who cannot not cultivate land, but they are allotted agriculture lands due to their influence.

Parial Mari from Shikarpur said the river Indus catchment area is still under control of landlords and criminals, who are threatening the people living there. There is need to remove encroachments, restore natural water ways and the natural status of the river to avoid any emergency in future.

Zeenia Shaukat of PILER spoke on social security issues. Her presentation focused on the situation after the devastation of recent floods in Pakistan, which played havoc with communities. She said the floods had exposed the governments’ claims as there are no basic social services, education, health and social protection. The flood proved the poor status of education, health facilities in the rural areas and the people displaced experienced haunting situation.

It was also observed that children belonging to displaced families saw schools first time while coming out of their native areas and lived in relief camps.

She said the state should ensure social protection to the people without any discrimination.

She said after breaches in the river embankments the government had formed inquiry committees to probe into the disaster, but irony is that we could not see the reports to show whose fault was that. In this regard, PILER wanted to learn the situation in the light of such interventions and its sustainability through the study.

She also said that due to unequal political system about 25 million children residing in urban slums do not have access to healthcare facilities. Hence there is need to raise the voice for social protection.

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