In a country like Pakistan where the top leadership is in constant fear of a possible coup or gripped by infighting, it doesn’t come as a surprise that problems afflicting millions of workers remain unaddressed. The 18th amendment to the Constitution two years back was anticipated to be a progressive move in improving the condition of the workers but it remains caught in teething troubles.
The major amendment to the Constitution placed the power to deal with labour matters into the hands of provincial governments, with the intent of dealing more effectively with issues related to worker rights. Sadly, the majority of provinces have failed to legislate on more than 130 labour subjects which now come under their direct administration. Punjab appears to be the only province which has started legislating on some labour subjects like industrial employment, maternity and bonded labor.
Further, the Constitutional amendment has created some lacunas as well. With provinces being vested with the power to make laws on trade unions, the national level regulatory body for registration of trade unions was dissolved. This resulted in national level unions and federations remaining without any legal protection. Absence of a federal law to govern national level unions results in non-conformity with ILO Convention 87 and Article 17 (1) of the Pakistan Constitution.
Another challenge created by the amendment is that provinces are finding it difficult to handle the transference of Employees Old-Age Benefit Institution (EOBI) and Workers Welfare Fund (WWF) because of lack of capacity. Also, it remains unclear how the provinces will handle pension funds when the retired workers return from other provinces where they registered in the first place.
Thousands of workers continuing without legal protection due to lack of appropriate provincial laws poses another problem. Home-workers are just one of the categories of workers who remain without any legal coverage. It is estimated approximately 8.5 million home-based workers exist in the country of which 65 percent are women. Beginning of this month, the Punjab government declared that it will grant protection to home-based workers through the Punjab Home-Based Workers Act, 2012, which will be passed soon. It remains to be seen when the legislation is finally enacted. Other provinces have yet to address the vulnerabilities of home workers.
For the constitutional reforms to succeed, provinces will have to urgently legislate on all matters devolved to them. Finally, the federal government has admitted it will bring in more amendments to address all anomalies which have risen due to the changes made.