Federation Must Provide Minimum Labour Standards to Provinces to Improve Working Conditions for Women Workers

ISLAMABAD, March 09, 2021: Women Workers Alliance (WWA), a group of women workers from 14 industrial districts highlighted gender gaps and inconsistencies in labour laws in a press conference held in Islamabad on Tuesday calling upon the federation to provide legislatures a set of bare minimum standards on labour legislation.

Calling these standards ‘federal framework guidelines on labour legislations’ the members said that such guidelines should be followed by federal and provincial legislatures while legislating on labour issues.

WWA members said that current laws- federal and provincial – have issues of harmonization and consistency. For example, federal labour laws do not have any provisions for equality of wages of men and women, KP and Sindh laws have provided some non-binding clause on the issue. As per Pakistan’s signing of fundamental conventions of International Labour Organization (ILO), Pakistan has to ensure equal wages among men and women.

Such legal inconsistencies and disparities are also found in other labour issues as well. For example, a women worker can avail a maternity leave of 16 weeks in Sindh weeks while in rest of Pakistan, the leave is allowed for 12 weeks. While Sindh has legislated progressively in provision of maternity leave, the eligibility of women to qualify for maternity leave is made conditional to a continuous service in that particular organization for at least one year while in other provinces and federal laws maternity leave can be availed on services of as many as four months.

The provision of daycare center that is very important for women’s economic participation, as it is a tool to redistribute the care responsibilities, is also inconsistent in various laws. Factories Act, 1934 has given the provision of daycare centers/child rooms for factories with 50 or more women workers. Labour laws governing private sector and services are silent on provision of daycare centers.

The WWA members also pointed out that more than six different definitions of workplaces are present in the labour laws and not a single definition comprehensively covers the kinds of workplaces that are present in the country. Emerging economic sectors are nowhere covered in the labour laws. Agriculture and fisheries workers are legally allowed to unionize in Sindh, however, labour laws of other provinces do not provide a legal umbrella to these workers.

Penalties and offences in the labour laws are also glaringly inconsistent, the lowest fine in labour laws in Islamabad is Rs. 20 and highest is Rs. 500. These fines are not enough to provide any sort of deterrence for the employers to comply with the laws.  The inconsistencies in offences and fines are also found in the labour laws made by provinces post devolution and same offence in Sindh has fine of Rs. 25, 000 while in Punjab it is Rs. 10, 000. There is need to comprehensively review the types of offences and come up with uniform principles related to fines and punishments.

During the press conference, the alliance members also demanded for the inclusion of Protection against Harassment at Workplace Act, 2010 into the ambit of labour laws, and formation of coordination mechanism between provincial ombudspersons, federal ombudsperson and Labour Ministries for effective implementation of laws.

Keeping in view the inconsistencies, non-compliance with the state’s constitutional and international commitments, Women Workers Alliance suggested that federal parliament should provide for such guidelines to provinces. The precedent of Elections Act, 2017 that has a chapter of Local Government Elections, an otherwise provincial subject, should be followed to provide for minimum labour standards to ensure that rights of women workers are protected and their needs addressed.

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