workers give Nov 20 deadline to government
Threaten with dharna outside Punjab Assembly if law not passed
Progressive Home Based Workers Federation comes into being, takes oath
Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
LAHORE: Women Home Based Workers (HBWs) from all over Punjab have warned the government of a dharna (sit-in) in front of the Punjab Assembly in case the draft law on HBWs is not approved by the assembly by November 20, 2014. The HBWs announced this decision at the National Convention of HBWs, organised by the Labour Education Foundation (LEF) at Mehfil Hall on Monday. They said this dharna will continue for an indefinite period and culminate only with the fulfillment of their demands.
The event was organised to commemorate the annual Home Based Workers’ Day which is celebrated all over South Asia on October 20. The participants expressed their resolve to continue with their struggle to ensure rights for women working in the informal sector, especially the HBWs. The oath taking ceremony of the office-bearers of the Progressive Home Based Workers’ Federation was also a key feature of the event. The federation was formed a day before the event and termed a major milestone in the movement for the recognition and rights of HBWs.
Khalid Mahmood, Executive Director, LEF said that HBWs contributed a major share to the country’s economy but they were not covered in the government policies. They were not even considered workers and made to work in extremely inhumane conditions. He said their immediate demand was that HBWs should be given minimum wages, recognised as workers, covered under EOBI and Social Security schemes, provided modern vocational training to add value to their work, linked with the market, offered health and educational facilities and so on.
He said it was imperative that HBWs organised themselves and followed the path of unionization so that they had a voice and could exert pressure on the government to get their demands fulfilled. He told the participants that LEF had recently got a union of HBWs registered in KPK which was an encouraging development. He said the draft law had been there for around one and a half years but the government had not finalized it yet. That was why the HBWs and the organizations supporting their cause had given a deadline in this regard.
Ume Laila Azhar, Executive Director, HomeNet Pakistan said that over the years the formal sector of economy had shrunk and the size of the informal sector had increased drastically. This, she said, had happened all over the world and especially in South Asia where the employers had tried to cut their costs by adopting contract system and denying regular jobs to workers. However, she was hopeful that things were improving and a proof of this was that the matters pertaining HBWs were currently being discussed at policy level.
Fouzia Viqar, Chairperson, Provincial Commission on the Status of Women, Punjab said the question was as to why it was so that most women workers were HBWs. She said unfortunately the women were denied their rights sometimes in the name of religion and sometimes in the name of societal norms. She said it was obvious that if women were not allowed to leave their homes they would have to stay back and opt to do work for ridiculously low salaries.
Fouzia said she had worked for women’s rights for quite long and now she had got a chance to work with the government. In fact, she said the commission was a bridge between the civil society and the government and she would try her best the issues of HBWs resolved at the earliest.
Maleeha Rasheed, Deputy Secretary, Labour Department said that many of the issues highlighted during the event were genuine and needed immediate attention. She said the labour department was already working on these lines vowed to take up these issues with the higher authorities for timely action.
The other participants included Shahnaz Iqbal, LEF, Mehnaz Rafi, Political and Human Rights Activist, Tajmeena, President Home Based Women Workers Union KPK, Younus Rahoo, Social Activist Sindh, Jalvat Ali, General Secretary Progressive Home Based Workers Federation, Dr. Huma Tabassum, Occupational Health and Safety Expert, Rubina Jameel, President All Pakistan Workers Confederation, Niaz Khan, Ittehad Labour Union Carpet Industries – Pakistan and Irfan Mufti, South Asia Partnership – Pakistan (SAP-PK).