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HBWs want quota on health insurance schemes

LAHORE: A convention of women workers organised by HomeNet Pakistan, under the USAID-supported Gender Equity Programme (GEP), was held at the Punjab Complex on Wednesday.

The convention was organised to commemorate the South Asian Day for home-based workers (HBWs) which falls on Oct 20.

Around 250 women who were both home-based and factory-based workers attended the convention where they gave their input and spoke about their problems as well as made demands.

Some of the demands included a quota for HBWs on the Punjab government’s health insurance schemes, the official acceptance of HBWs as workers which falls under the protection of the labour department and be given social security and registration.

They demanded that women be given representation in every sector.

The women came from different areas around Lahore. Many members of the civil society, media, women MPAs, trade unionists and members of labour rights’ organisations were also present.

The HBWs chanted slogans and threatened to hold a sit-in outside the Punjab Assembly if the draft law on HBWs was not passed by Nov 20, 2014.

Punjab Women Development Minister Hameeda Waheeduddin chaired the event.

She assured the workers that the bill on HBWs would be presented in the assembly as soon as Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif returned from his visit abroad.

The bill, she said, had already been passed by the Punjab cabinet and now it would be presented to the assembly for final approval.

HomeNet Pakistan Executive Director Ume Laila Azhar said the large number of workers present at the convention proved that they knew about their rights and were serious about improving their lives.

PTI MPA Dr Nosheen Hamid lamented the fact that the World Economic Forum had declared Pakistan the worst country in the world for women and ranked it last in terms of Gender Equity Index. Therefore, she said, it was a challenge for them to take corrective measures and come out of this situation.

Labour Education Foundation (LEF) Executive Director Khalid Mahmood focused on the need for measures to ensure Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) for HBWs. He said HBWs were vulnerable to diseases of all types as they had to work with hazardous chemicals and acids. Besides, they suffered from joint and back pains due to uneasy postures in which they had to sit for endless hours. He said asthma, tuberculosis and weak eyesight were the most common diseases among HBWs.

Therefore, the government must realise the need for providing a health and social security cover to HBWs who did not have enough money to spend on their health.

Other demands made during the convention were that the HBWs must be provided with opportunities to market their goods without the involvement of agents and the government must ratify ILO conventions C-177, C-189 and C-183 and implement them.

The participants unanimously demanded that local government elections be held without any delay and Oct 20 be announced and celebrated as National Day for HBWs in Pakistan.