Home-based workers demand recognition as labour, end to extortion and
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed Sajida Manzoor is a home-based worker (HBW)
from Rawalpindi. She, along with her family members, stitches bed
sheets, cushion and pillows and hands over the merchandise to commercial
buyers. These buyers interact with them through middlemen and pay them a
paltry amount for the work they do.
many other women who cannot travel long distances away from their homes,
she has chosen the workplace herself. The middleman delivers the raw
material at her house or sometimes she herself collects it from him.
remuneration through the same middleman which she knows is much lower
than what he is getting from the final buyer but she has no choice.
Though she is not satisfied with the rate she is offered, her real
concern is that the middlemen who can also be called contractors try to
exploit her and other HBWs.
“They ask us
to come to their places at night to collect the amount. If we show
reluctance, they say they may not get the amount next day,” she says
with an expression of helplessness on her face.
Jabbar, a representative of bangle workers who work from home, complains
they have never been recognized as labour. They still remain
unregistered and uncovered under the labour laws and because of this not
entitled to benefit from government’s social protection and welfare
the miseries of bangle workers, she says thousands of them are exploited
by contractors who make them work for up to 20 hours a day against
nominal wages. Their ordeal does not end here; these workers are exposed
to serious health hazards as dangerous chemicals are used in the
Bangle-making is mostly done at home and the entire family becomes
engaged in the production process. The diseases they are vulnerable to
include cancer, tuberculosis, asthma, and those related to eye, bone and
skin, she adds.
HBWs are just two of the above 1500 who gathered in Lahore last week at
a national convention to express solidarity with each other and raise
collective voice for their rights. Though most of the participants had
come from Lahore districts around it, there was representation from
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh as well.
Iqbal, Associate Director, Labour Education Foundation (LEF) — the
organisation which had made arrangements for the convention — says it is
the best time to raise this issue at as many forums as possible. With
new governments in place, there is an urgent need for legislating on the
rights of HBWs in all provinces.
TNS that the womenfolk comprise majority of the workforce in informal
sector-an eye-opener for those who think women hardly do any work in
Pakistan. But unfortunately, there is no implementation of minimum wages
law in Pakistan especially when it comes to the HBWs and informal
careful estimates, over 70 per cent of the rural women work in
agriculture and livestock; over 60 per cent urban female labour force
works in non-formal sectors and a large number of the working women are
also concerned about the health and safety of HBWs and says that it is
clearly mentioned in the Constitution of Pakistan that no such job
should be entrusted to the women or children that can be harmful for
their health. “But what is happening on ground is contrary to this. They
are exposed to all kinds of harmful chemicals, poison, carcinogenic
matter and what not, she says.
the importance of HBWs, one has to find out the tasks they do. They make
uppers of ladies shoes and stud them with decorative stones, paste
ornamental stones on embroidered material, fill matchboxes with match
sticks, put cotton in quilts, cover candies etc with wrappers, pack
edibles like pulses, spices in small containers or plastic, peel garlic,
make ice cream sticks and what not.
remuneration paid to them is ridiculously low. The daily wage for sewing
is as low as Rs 27 for an HBW, says Umme Laila, executive director of
Home Net. “This is stark injustice. The big guns and business tycoons
are making money in a very brutal way. The clothes these skillful women
stitch are sold by industrialists as branded stuff at a very high cost.
But there is no dividend for this lot which has to, she adds. The
families of HBWs who remove the shell of pine nuts (chilghoza) for dry
fruit merchants get around Rs 10 per kg whereas the product is sold for
between Rs 2000 per kg or more.
says her organization is working hard to empower HBWs. It is even
convincing them to participate in the local government elections, she
this gloomy state of affairs, the silver lining is that the Punjab
government has prepared a draft bill on the rights of HBWs. It will
hopefully be taken up in the assembly. Salient features of the proposed
Punjab Home-Based Workers Act, 2013 include payment of minimum wages,
social security benefits, grant of right to associate and skill
development of HBWs.
meanwhile, Sarsabz Foundation has made HBW unite and work in the form of
cooperatives. Iftikhar Rasool, the organization’s representative says
that they have helped HBWs form cooperatives in Faisalabad and do their
work collectively. The middleman is out and the HBWs are negotiating
directly with the end buyers, he adds.
says that Sarsabz Foundation has issued these HBWs identification cards
and regularly submits social security contribution on their behalf. “The
model is highly successful in Faisalabad and we are trying to replicate
it in other cities.”
and organizational efforts notwithstanding, labour rights groups believe
the desired objectives cannot be achieved till the government follows
the guidelines mentioned in International Labour Organization (ILO)
convention C177. This convention offers protection to workers who are
employed in their own homes.