Workers demand decent wages

LAHORE: Workers must be paid a fair wage for the work they do. A lot of workers don’t understand that. They demand a salary in which they can eat, pay bills and rent in addition to educating their children.

Recently two labor conferences were held in Lahore, one by the Pakistan Trade Union Federation (APTUF) at the Punjabi complex and the other was the women workers conference this weekend by the Sangat Development Foundation in collaboration with Freidrich Ebert Stiftung in a local hotel. At both events, workers were honoured, given shields and certificates in recognition of their service.

Their meetings show that efforts are underway to form harassment committees and that they have succeeded in forming them in the workplace. There are success stories of ensuring separate toilets in factories/industrial units, efforts are underway to have child care facilities in workspaces where women are employed. The government has the will and the funds to respond. Workers have received funds for education and social security from workers’ welfare funds while there is still a large backlog, but they don’t know how to have humane working hours and fair wages for a many of them and no doubt they consider them the most important issues.

Labor works 12 hours in factories and as domestic helpers and this is the norm whereas according to the law it should be 8 hours. The minimum wage is 25,000 rupees, but private organizations have taken two years to start paying the minimum wage set by the government and many are not even paying it.

In jobs other than government organizations, forming unions remains a dream. Every time workers tried to form unions, they were fired. A large number of workers do not receive the minimum wage. If Department of Labor officials stand with union leaders outside of factories and record each worker’s statement of how much they were paid and how many hours they worked, there may be data on the payment of wages and the number of hours worked, but the labor department does not allow you to stand outside a factory and do this exercise. Speaking at the Women Workers Conference, Lala Sultan of Balochistan said, “If women workers die while performing their work, their families are paid Rs 5 lakh in Lahore but only Rs 2 lakh in Balochistan.

Khurshid Ahmad, a former trade union leader, called on women’s organizations to work together with trade unions. Judge (retired) Nasira Iqbal stressed the urgency of opting for family planning and gaining economic independence. She called on women to find jobs directly on the internet and cut out the middleman. The first female judge said, “Give women all the facilities you give men at home. This would mean sharing household chores.

Riffat Malik, vice-president of the FPCCI, which represents 24 women’s chambers and 165 professional organizations, insisted on developing policies from which women can benefit most. She offered to help the women of WWU and lamented that there was very little economic activity but a lot of potential for it.

Professor Bushra Aitezaz said: “The laws are there. We don’t use them. She insisted on taking Haq Mehr seriously and wrote it down. She said: “At one time I was in charge of the women’s cricket team. We gave them salaries and all the benefits. The captain of the women’s team got married, had a baby who traveled with her. So know your rights and go for it,” she said.

Musarrat Qadeem, President of FAFEN (Network for Free and Fair Elections) insisted on the need to empower women. “Women need money in their hands because only that gives them power,” she said.

Sangat is leading the Women Workers Alliance (WWA) in 14 districts of Punjab and has started another Women Workers Unity project which SDF is targeting in 20 districts. WWU was registered in Lahore to begin with. The organizers will recruit a minimum of 50 women in each district and a maximum of 500 women, all working in the private sector.

From the WWA platform, the women contacted the Department of Labour, the provincial ombudsman and succeeded in having anti-harassment committees formed. They approached DG PESSI and EOBI for social security and were asked to provide the list of private organizations in the industrial sector which are not registered with EOBI.

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