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Home-based workers’ unity to get rights stressed

Sumaira Jajja

KARACHI: Home-based workers (HBWs) in Pakistan must unite on a platform to get the International Labour Organisation’s Home Work Convention C-177 ratified and work on getting post-devolution policies and legislation in order to protect their rights.

This was the joint opinion shared by participants in the National Organisation of Working Communities ‘Home-Based Workers Convention’ held at the PMA House on Sunday.

Attended by over a hundred labour activists and representatives of the HBWs from different sectors, the event was aimed at highlighting the ratification of the ILO’s Home Work Convention C-177 and forming a joint action committee (JAC).

Fareed Awan, a labour rights activist, said the HBWs, particularly women, needed to unite on a platform so that their voice could be heard.

“It is important to get recognition and for that you have to be active. Not only do your wages, but also the other issues facing your communities can be resolved if you make concerted efforts.”Habib Junaidi of the Pakistan People’s Labour Bureau said that though women accounted for over half of Pakistan’s population, they remained sidelined. “For women and the HBW sector, education and awareness will lead to empowerment. I do hope that the HBWs movement will also acknowledge the contribution of women workers, particularly those working in the farm sector.”

On the occasion, he also said that he would help the HBWs joint action committee for lowering the minimum Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) contribution of Rs420 for self-registered workers to even further.

The most important aspect of the convention was to get the ILO C-177 ratified. The said convention is already ratified by seven countries. It allows the workers right to establish or join organisations of their own choice and to participate in the activities of such organisations; protection against discrimination in employment and occupation; protection in the field of occupational health and safety.

It further allows them remuneration; statutory social security protection; access to training; minimum age for admission to employment or work; and maternity protection.

Speaking to Dawn, Hameeda Faiz of the Aanchal Foundation, a community-based organisation working for the welfare of embroidery workers, said that it was easy to manipulate both poor men and women.

“A large number of home-based workers are mothers also, at times with one toddler in hand and pregnant with another child. So for them working from homes is a feasible idea but it takes them a while to understand how they are exploited. What we want is a level playing field where the rights of these people are protected.”

Sabiha Bano (not her real name), an HBW from Ornagi Town, said that they were at times worse than daily wagers.

“At least they get paid once the day comes to an end. In our case, the finished products are taken from us and we are told that we will get the amount when they are sold. Many a time the dealers cheat us. Plus the security situation in Orangi Town makes it difficult for us to deliver work on time and we lose future orders.”

When asked if she was registered as a self-employed worker in the EOBI, she said: “I barely make Rs2,000 a work and giving away around Rs500 is a big luxury for me. But if they lower the amount, I might fill up the form.”Speaking to Dawn, Farhat Parveen of the NOW Communities said that though there was an HBW Policy, it had yet to be put into use.

“After the 18th Amendment, labour has become a provincial matter and so far there is no capacity at this level to resolve the issues faced by home-based workers. Today, we also formed the Karachi Home-based Workers Joint Action Committee and look forward to achieving our goals.”

The joint action committee aims to have the workers organised at the sector level as well look after the issues that the workers face in their communities, including power issues and law and order. But most importantly, the committee will launch a signature campaign to lower the minimum Rs420 EOBI contribution for self-registered workers.

“We need some 10,000 signatures for this, and by May 1 we hope we will have enough signs to send out a petition. Also, in the long run, we want the HBW to get registered as cooperatives,” Parveen explained.

“Also, we must realise that local bodies play an important role and only when the HBWs are registered at the UC level, a proper picture will emerge.

“The provinces must work on labour policies and legislations that will help the HBWs,” she added.

The HBWs hope that they will eventually have a working model that replicates the Indian city Ahmedabad’s Self Employed Workers Association (Sewa).

“Not only did Sewa ensure that the rights of the HBWs are protected, but it made a significant contribution to the social development of the community on a self-help basis,” an activist said.