Labour Day: Time to Deliver on Labour Rights in Pakistan

As the world celebrates Labour Day, the labour force in Pakistan finds little to rejoice about. The country is grappling with high inflation and a bleak economic outlook, leaving workers with a grim reality. Despite these challenges, the government can and should take steps to improve the conditions for the working class.

Trade unions in Pakistan have historically been weak, and today, the number of unionized workers is negligible. Global changes, such as the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of neoliberalism and globalized capitalism, have pushed labour issues further down the list of national priorities. In Pakistan, questionable laws, such as the Musharraf-era labour ordinance, and internal conflicts within unions have hindered the workers’ cause.

However, the fight for a living wage and decent working conditions for the masses must continue. Since the passage of the 18th Amendment, labour has been devolved to the provinces, which now need to step up and deliver on workers’ rights. Each province must enforce a minimum wage that keeps pace with soaring inflation. Despite resistance from tycoons, the state must stand firm on enforcing the minimum wage.

In addition, the state needs to ensure all employers meet occupational health and safety criteria. Many labourers work in hazardous conditions without adequate safety measures in place. International unions and activists have helped improve conditions in the textile industry, but other sectors need to follow suit.

The state should also extend social security to all workers, especially those in the informal sector, who make up the largest percentage of Pakistan’s labour force. If multilateral lenders prescribe more austerity for the country, the government should shield the working classes from its fallout.

In his special message, President Zardari emphasized the importance of safeguarding labourers’ rights, advocating for social protection, fair wages, and safe working conditions. He highlighted the challenges faced by workers, including inflation, unemployment, and climate change impacts, urging for measures to improve their welfare.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed the government’s dedication to enhancing labour welfare and aligning domestic labour laws with international standards. He acknowledged the sacrifices of workers and prioritized occupational safety and health across various sectors.

The plight of the labour force in Pakistan is a stark reminder of the struggles faced by workers worldwide. As we celebrate Labour Day, let us not forget the unseen struggles of the labour force and renew our commitment to fighting for their rights. The government, employers, and society at large need to recognize the invaluable contributions of workers and ensure they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Labour Day serves as a reminder of the importance of workers’ rights and the need for improved labour conditions in Pakistan. It is a call to action for the government, employers, and society to work together to create a better future for the country’s labour force.

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