No social protection for millions of home-based workers

Karachi: A consultation of social protection for home-based workers expressed concern about the lack of social protection to millions of home workers in Pakistan, particularly province of Sindh, and demanded proper and effective legislation to protect these hapless workers.

The consultation was arranged by Home-based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) at a local hotel and attended by the representatives of home-based and formal workers, officials of labor-related government departments, representative of ILO, and senior trade union leaders.

In her opening remarks, Home-based Women Worker Saira Feroz shed light on the plights of home-based women workers in Sindh. She said the wages of home-based women workers are even less than the government-fixed minimum wages, despite the fact that they toil for long hours along with their children. Some garment and stitching workers hardly get Pakistani rupees 120 a day. Women HBWs even do not get equal pay to their male counterparts. These workers do not have any facility of workplace health and safety. They do not have social security cover of any kind. They live and work at the same place and in some vocations their work involve handling harmful smoke, acids and chemicals that play havoc with not only their health but also the health of their spouses and children.

Ms. Feroz suggested organizing home-based workers in unions to get rid of their social and economic exploitation. It needs to raise a strong voice and increase networking of HBWs with other labor unions and federations to get their due rights. Home-based workers need to form their unions and CBAs in every city and town. They should work on one platform so that their voice is heard. A proper policy for home-based workers and a comprehensive law to protect their rights is the need of the hour.

Ali Ashraf Naqvi, Joint Director, Labour Department, Government of Sindh, said they have already drafted a policy for the home-based workers that has been awaiting the approval of the cabinet for two years. He explained keys guidelines of the policy and the definitions of home-based workers and employers. He said under the policy a provincial council will be formed for the home-based workers, chaired by a representative of the provincial government.

He said the provincial government of Sindh is committed to facilitate the home-based workers. He said the government of Sindh has also constituted a cabinet committee to evolve a mechanism for covering the HBW in social security net. This committee is comprised of Sindh minister for parliamentary affaire Dr Sikander Mandhro, minister for women development Rubina Qaimkhani, minister for fisheries and livestock Jam Khan Shoro, special assistant to Sindh chief minister on culture Sharmila Faruqi and adviser to chief minister on labour Asghar Ali Khan Junejo.

Workers Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan Chairman Ahsnaullah Khan stressed the need of joint efforts for the recognition of the home-based workers as workers under labor laws. He suggested establishing a council for home-based worker, chaired by non-governmental side. He asked to hold meetings with the cabinet committee for brainstorming and lobbying with them on the issues related to home-based workers within two weeks. He advised to constitute a technical committee to discuss on the HBW-related issues, especially regarding their legal recognition, wages and social protection.

Khan suggested organizing skill-building trainings for HBW as many of them get training from their family members in their vocations and the need capacity building. He said his organization has already contacted many technical institutions to arrange proper trainings for their workers.

NTUF President Rafiq Baloch said that in the proposed law, the definitions of ‘contractor’ and ‘home-based worker’ should be exhaustive. He said the HBWs are paid through third party contractors and they should be brought into the ambit of law. He said still for many people and even government officials there is no clear concept of a home-based worker. They confuse the domestic workers as the home-based workers. He said the real work would start after the policy approval with the beginning of registration of the HBW. He said this registration would provide a valuable data, which is very important at every level. He also emphasized on the struggle of home-based workers along with the workers of formal sectors.

Nasir Mansoor, Deputy General Secretary of NTUF, said that we have to start work in the areas where we all have reached consensus. He said it is necessary to start lobbying with the government officials and aware them about the issues pertaining to the HBWs. He conditions have changed now and the definitions, drafts and policies of the past could not cater the present needs. He said we have to make new frameworks keeping in the prevailing scenario of our formal and informal labor sectors. He suggested that while defining ‘worker’, he or she should be linked to the prevailing productive process.

International Labor Organization (ILO) representative Abid Niaz Khan, national project coordinator, Livelihood Restoration, Protection and Sustainable Empowerment of Vulnerable Communities in Sindh, stressed the need of lobbying with the parliamentarians on the issues related to HBWs. He suggested that HBWWF should arrange awareness sessions with the parliamentarian. He advised to hold a joint meeting with labour departments of the other provinces on the issue to share information and experience.

HBWWF secretary general Zehra Khan said millions of home-based workers, including women home-based workers, are facing immense problems as their rights are not being recognized by the law of land. She said all stakeholders should join hands to get passed proper legislation to safeguard the rights of these workers, who are amongst the most vulnerable sections of our society. She said the problems of home-based workers, most of them women, go neglected as this informal sector is being exploited at all levels. She said the ruling politicians should fulfill their electoral promise and recognize more than five million home-based women workers of Sindh and give them their due rights as per the constitution and labour laws.

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