The issues of Pakistan’s working people continue to be ignored as our state institutions remain embroiled in power plays most of the time. Fortunately, we have multilateral institutions like the International Labour Organisation (ILO) time and again reminding the authorities concerned to meet their obligations towards the citizenry. The latest such reminder from the ILO comes in the form of an appeal to abolish the Unskilled Minimum Wage Ordinance of 1969. This should be done immediately.
The ILO has asked the government to ratify its Minimum Wage Fixing Convention of 1970 so that provincial governments — that enact and enforce labour laws in their jurisdictions — can then enact laws on minimum wage accordingly.
This will bring unskilled workers employed in the agriculture sector, public entities and charitable enterprises under the ambit of the minimum wage legal regime.
The ILO report has also highlighted the unsatisfactory performance of wage boards in provinces. Their task is to monitor wages in view of the prevalent economic conditions and cost of living. As the ILO notes, this is not possible without timely research and availability of relevant social and economic datasets. Since the wage board hardly seem to be interested in such efforts, we hope that the ILO will take the lead on its own and commission relevant research mentioned in its report. The role of the judiciary, labour tribunals, and prosecutors in enforcing labour laws are some of the research areas identified by the ILO. More and crucial information on issues like sub-contracting and indirect sourcing is likely to come to limelight as a result.
Further, Pakistan needs to implement the Equal Remuneration Convention of 1951 and enact laws explicitly prohibiting sex or gender discrimination in wages. This is a crucial first step that has been overdue for long and can pave the way for true gender equality in our workplaces.
We hope that the ILO will follow up on this appeal and push the government to act on its recommendations, leading to positive changes for Pakistan’s working people. The government, too, needs to realise its obligation and implement the principle that minimum wage or workers needs to be such that it can afford them a decent standard of living. Any short of that should be unacceptable. *
Published in Daily Times, September 14th 2017.