KARACHI: Speakers at the concluding day of a national conference on Wednesday demanded the provincial governments to fix minimum wages of unskilled workers at Rs 30,000 per month The conference titled ‘Human Rights and Labour Rights: Towards an Enabling Environment for Compliance’ was organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) in collaboration with National Commission for Human Rights and Sindh Human Rights Commission. The conference minutely discussed various problems of workers in the context of labour rights, human rights and right to development. Participants expressed their concern over declining trade unions’ membership and demanded the federal as well as provincial governments to take serious measures to ensure provision of fundamental rights of association and collective bargaining to all workers as enshrined in constitution. The participants welcomed the presentation of a law for home-based workers in the Sindh Assembly and urged other provincial governments to make similar initiatives through a tripartite mechanism. Labour leaders demanded government to ensure universal coverage of social security, Employees Old-age Benefit Institution (EOBI) all other welfare benefits, including workers’ access to calculated and described benefits. Misuse of workers’ money must be stopped, they said. Human rights activists also voiced concern on shrinking space for freedom of expression, freedom of press, freedom of association and freedom of information. “We demand that these basic freedoms must not be curtailed under any circumstances.” They said that the ongoing campaign against civil society organisations must be stopped. Their right to contribute in defence and realisation of human rights must be ensured. The government, they said, must remove the impression that “extremist elements were operating under its protection and connivance of state functionaries and take effective measures to eradicate hate speech and intolerance from society and guarantee freedom of religion and belief to all its citizens”. They recommended that the ‘right to life’ should to be interpreted in a broader manner. It should include guarantees to basic necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, health cover and right to work. The subject of human rights, especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), needs to be incorporated in the syllabus in the face of increasing disrespect for human rights at state and society level. Participants underlined the need that all political parties in Pakistan should include agenda of human rights promotion and protection to their respective election manifestoes. “They should focus on protection of minorities and labourers in Pakistan. We are deeply dissatisfied with the process of election in Pakistan. Only rich can take part in the process. We call for reforms so that all people of Pakistan with modest means have level playing field to contest elections.” Speakers also pointed out that over 25 million children in Pakistan were out of schools in what they described as a brazen violation of Article 25A, which ensures free and compulsory education to all children between five to 16 years. “Thus we demand that state should take measures at emergency basis to make sure that no child is deprived of the fundamental right.” They added,” The conventions attached to GSP-Plus facility by the European Union also have a number of labour, human rights, environmental and biodiversity related treaties that Pakistan is obliged to deliver on. However, Pakistan’s development policies are not adequately considerate of environment nor are there strong structures guarding people’s rights to natural resources and environmental conservation.” Participants agreed that the right to development was linked to the right to life, and its framework needed to be participatory and representative of communities. Published in Daily Times, May 10th 2018.