Labour Laws Must Address Women Workers’ Issues

  • WAction Demands Legislative Assemblies to Consolidate, Upgrade and Implement Labour Laws

ISLAMABAD, May 13, 2018: The Parliament and the Provincial Assemblies need to improve the quality of labour legislation to make it consistent, applicable and in accordance with the law of the country and best international practices, besides ensuring that special measures to address women workers’ issues are incorporated in them, observes Women Action for Better Workplaces (WAction), a project implemented by Trust for Democratic Education & Accountability (TDEA), in a statement here on Sunday.

A qualitative analysis of the federal and provincial labour laws passed by the incumbent legislative assemblies was conducted by WAction that states that Pakistan has inherited and introduced a number of labour laws. As many as 130 federal and provincial laws partially cover the labour issues, while more than 80 laws are such which exclusively deal with labour related matters. The analysis further reveals that some parts of the labour laws have become obsolete and infructuous, warranting repeal, while some others need to evolve to keep pace with the changing realities of the modern day workforce. With little or no pressure from any quarters, efforts on part of the legislative assemblies to upgrade or consolidate this set of fragmented laws are virtually non-existent.

The subject of Labour was devolved to the provinces with the passage of the 18th Amendment in 2010. Consequently, 72 laws were introduced and passed by the Provincial Assemblies. Fifty-five such laws almost replicate the previous federal legislations while 17 new laws – three in Punjab, eight in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and six in Sindh – have been enacted by the provinces. Generally, the provinces are adopting the older version of legislations with minor amendments such as updating the level of fines and/or changing the definitions.

Another aspect of the audit analysis states that despite granting powers to the provinces, they have yet to adopt the required federal legislations required under the 18th Amendment. Provinces are at different stages in terms of their pace of adoption. For instance, Balochistan has not adopted majority of the laws, while the other three provinces have adopted the fundamental laws, but the inter-provincial disparities within laws have not yet been fully addressed by them.

Due to lack of inter-provincial coordination, the provincial amendments to laws have created geographical disparities in terms of dealing with the labour-related issues. Devolution has created a unique problem for the applicability of labour laws in a particular place or situation. For example, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has its own version of Factories Act, 1934 (KP Factories Act, 2013) that is applicable in the province, whereas, Balochistan has not yet adopted it, thus, the previous federal law is still applicable in the latter region.

Another important point is that the labour laws lack absolute compliance with the international instruments, especially those that are related to improving the conditions of women workers in the workforce, including the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Equal Remuneration (C-100), Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (C-111), Convention on Labour Inspection (C-180) and Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. Global best practices in labour legislation follow the principle of clear division into four streams that include terms of services and conditions, occupational safety and health, industrial relations and social security. Contrary to global best practices, Pakistani federation and provinces have multiple laws governing each stream. For example, at least six different laws deal with the terms of services and conditions for workers employed in industrial or commercial establishments. Moreover, laws dealing with minimum wages and payment of wages also cross the terms of services and conditions for workers. Multiple laws dealing with the same subject within labour governance not only make it complicated for a lay man, but also give room to inter and intra law contradictions.

In the absence of any parliamentary guidance on minimum standards in labour legislation, lack of an inter-provincial coordination mechanism has resulted in grave inconsistencies in labour legislation across the country.

The reason being Parliament neither provided any minimum standards to the provinces while devolving the subject of labour nor did it make any effort to update obsolete laws for its own jurisdiction in the post-devolution regime, while compliance with ratified conventions remain a serious oversight as well.

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