First Agriculture and Fishing Workers Trade Union registered

KARACHI: Sindh has become the first province to recognise women and men in the agriculture and fishery sector as workers under law, and has registered the first ever trade union for this sector.

The Sindh Agriculture and Fishing Workers Union (SAFWU) was registered with the office of the Registrar Trade Unions, Karachi under the provisions of Sindh Industrial Relations Act, 2013. The union currently has 400 members of which 180 are women, all belonging to various districts of Sindh.

The agriculture sector, a major source of income, revenue and employment for Pakistan, employing approximately 60% of workforce, has always been outside the purview of labour laws. After the devolution, the sindh government amended the Industrial Relations Act and extended labour laws to agriculture and fishery sector workers, including the right to organize and form unions.

“This is a great day for us”, said Ms Rafia Gilani, Chairperson of the Union, “But the work has only begun. We have formed our Union, held its first Convention with ILO’s support and today we are registered with the government. Now the union has to train workers on their rights and what it means to be part of a Trade Union and strengthen its finances. We will also strive for the international affiliation of the union.”

The amendment to the law and the establishment of the Agriculture and Fishing Workers’ Trade Union was supported by the ILO project, Promoting Gender Equality for Decent Employment (GE4DE), funded by the Canadian government. Several office bearers who led this effort to form the Union were trained by GE4DE on leadership, gender equality and paralegal skills and were supported in registering the union. The project, which aims to improve women’s skills and employment by working with government, employers, workers and media, identified agriculture as a sector where many women were employed in the most vulnerable, unprotected conditions.Despite these decent work deficits, agriculture and fishing sector is an important source of employment for women in particular, many of whom do not have the skills or education to find alternative employment in the rural economy.

Gulfam Memon, Joint Director Labour and Gender Focal Person, Department of Labour, Sindh said that the registration of the Union was an important step in turning the law into action. “This will help agriculture and fishery sector workers negotiate better working conditions and enhance social safety nets and occupational safety and health coverage”.

Addressing the Founding convention of the Sindh Agriculture and Fishing Workers Union (SAFWU), Mr. Zahoor Awan, General Secretary, Pakistan Workers Federation and member of the ILO Governing Body said that the government of Sindh had done remarkable work in giving the right to unionize to the workers of the agriculture and fishing sectors. “Though Pakistan has ratified the ILO convention C-11, (Right of Association, Agriculture Convention) and also ILO core conventions including C-89 and 98 on the right to form unions and collectively bargain for their rights, Sindh is the only province to turn this commitment into law, and this should be an example for other provinces”.

Speaking on the occasion, representative of the ILO Pakistan Office, Syed Hassan Rizvi, Senior Programme Assistant, said that this was particularly important for women. “An increasing number of women work in the agriculture and fishery sector, often at the lower, more vulnerable parts of the value chain. Unfortunately their productive contribution often goes uncounted and remains invisible. Being part of a union gives them the opportunity to come together and make their voice heard, make their demands and negotiate better recognition and rewards for their work.” He also conveyed to the workers in the founding convention the message of good wishes from the Country Director of the ILO Pakistan Office.

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