Trade unions, HR organizations need to bring positive social change: conference told

KARACHI: IA Rahman, Secretary General, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Sunday asked the trade unions and human rights organizations to work together for a social change and implementation of all the fundamental rights and International Conventions, otherwise, the national security paradigm in Pakistan would create hindrances in dispensation of the fundamental rights.

He was speaking at the first day of two-day regional conference ‘Global Trade and Labour Compliance: South Asian Perspective’ jointly organized by Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) at a local hotel today. The speakers from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka spoke via Skype and a speaker from Nepal gave a presentation about the situation of labour in their countries. Key leaders of the trade unions, federations and Confederation attended the conferene.

In his presentation on “Human Rights Violation: Can there be a Silver Lining,” the central leader of the key human rights body in Pakistan pointed out that the visiting European Union delegation had also met with him on the issue of capital punishment. The EU delegation regretted that the government’s attitude in this regard is “rude”.

The only silver lining left is implementation of the GSP-Plus conditionality. But for that the civil society should work together for bringing a social change. In this regard, he suggested setting up a permanent coordination committee of the citizens to work for a social change.

The human rights organsiations and trade unions are able to collectively discuss and push for implementation of 27 International Conventions, which include eight core-labour rights of International Labour Organisation (ILO) and seven human rights Conventions and Covenants of the United Nations.

“Now the government would not be able to cheat us at the time reporting to the United Nations. Earlier, the government used to report falsely about implementations of different Conventions and Covenant at the United Nations,” Rahman said adding that now the civil society organizations would be able to contribute in reporting methods as a compliance of GSP Plus conditionalities.

It is expected that besides benefitting to the employers and manufacturers, the GSP-Plus facility to export duty free to European market would provide more employment opportunities to the workers. “There is a room for competition in it and we should create awareness among the workers about their rights.”

Talking about setting up of Military Courts and abolition of the moratorium on hanging in Pakistan, Rahman said the government’s decisions were in violation of the parliamentary norms. They should have brought the issues at the floor of the parliament, discuss and then pass the resolutions.

“Instead, they put ‘Patharidars’ (politicians) in a room and ordered them not to leave the room without making the decision of Military courts,” he said adding that Pakistani society has become a brutal society. “Even many people demand hanging of the criminals in the public.” No political leader in the meeting with the Prime Minister had a gut to defy.” He added.

He mentioned the important UN Covenants including International Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which are signed and ratified by Pakistan, but they are not properly implemented. The silver lining it that the government would not withdraw from these Conventions. The situation of implementation of International Conventions is very serious. Unfortunately, there is no right to work in Pakistan and there is a widespread discrimination against women. Inequality in the society is due to discrimination on the basis of religion, sex and social status. “We have made inequality permissible in our society.”

Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Anton Marcus from Free Trade Zone Union Sri Lanka spoke about the workers experience after GSP and GSP Plus to Sri Lanka. He said Sri Lankan government had earlier declared the entire country as free trade zone since 1992, under which labour laws were not implementable in these zones. But in 1997 Sri Lankan government acquired GSP status, which required to allow trade unions formation in the industries.

After the GSP status, the government allowed trade unions to bargain with the management if they have got 40 percent membership of the workers. On a complaint from the trade unions, the European Union gave a roadmap to Sri Lankan government for implementation of international conventions. In 2004, a review from the EU was due, but because of tsunami the EU extended the GSP status and even provided GSP Plus benefits without the review.

As a result, the employers got windfall profits, but they did not pass on the benefit to the workers. As a result of the review in 2010, the EU withdrew the GSP Plus status on grave violation of human rights. The government threatened EU to lodge a complaint under WTO, but it did not happen.

Abul Hossain from garments workers union of Bangladesh said that after two deadly incidents of fire and building collapse in Dhaka the government and ILO have entered into an accord for compensation to the affected families. More than 2000 workers have lost their lives in these two incidents. As a result of the accord in 2012 about 2,000 factories have been inspected by the government. However, he said most of the things on health and safety front have not improved so far. The minimum wage, which is still one of the lowest in the world has been increased to 5300 Takka or $75.

Karamat Ali, Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) speaking on “Global Trade and Human Rights: Historical Perspective” said that under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) accord Pakistan has to give status of Most Favorite Nation status to all the counties, which it trades. He said under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) the European Union allows developing countries duty free imports on the condition of implementation of core labour and human rights conventions and covenants. In 2014 it also gave GSP-Plus status to Pakistan.

Unfortunately, he pointed out that the trade unions’ trend is declining in Pakistan. Earlier 20-25 percent workers in South Asia were registered in the trade unions, which has now declined to 10%. In Pakistan the situation is even worse, around 1 percent workers are presently members of the trade unions.

He said the situation of human rights is worse in Pakistan. Discrimination against women is like a apartheid in every sector of the society. Only sanctions are not solving the problem so the 27 international conventions can provide a framework for making this world a better place to live.

Those who also spoke on the first day included Abdul Qadir from FES; Saeed Ahmed, Director of Labour Balochistan; Dr. Bharat Raj Pahari from Nepal; Shafeeq Ghauri, General Secretary of Sindh Labour Federation; trade unions leaders Khurshid Ahmed, Farida Zaheer, Yousuf Baloch, Sultan Mohammad Khan, Zulfiqar Shah and others.

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