HYDERABAD: Participants in a consultation dialogue held here on Tuesday called for a fully-fledged policy for the benefit and welfare of farm workers, including cotton pickers. They urged the government to extend health cover and other due rights to farm workers.
The event was organised by the Sindh Community Foundation (SCF) in the office of the task force of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). A large number of women cotton pickers and peasants from various areas of Matiari district, besides agriculture experts and representatives of civil society organisations and labour department, took part in the dialogue.
Javed Hussain of the SCF said that over 500,000 women engaged in the cotton picking profession contributed heavily to the national economy but they were not getting due benefits and even fair wages.
These farm workers were not being provided any medical support by government or their employers although they had to work in open fields and rough weather conditions, he said, adding that they do not get the benefits at a par with industrial workers in the country.
He called for inclusion of cotton pickers in the health insurance programme, and said their minimum wages should be fixed and provided legal cover.
Prof Dr Mohammed Ismail Kumbhar of the Sindh Agriculture University (SAU), Tandojam, said that owing to unavailability of data and research regarding farm workers, their livelihood and socio-economic conditions could not be assessed. He called for a policy for the health, environmental safety and wages for women farm workers as well as land reforms in the proposed policy.
Assistant director of labour department at Hyderabad Mohammed Zubair told the participants that farm workers were protected under the Sindh Industrial Relations Act, 2013, which gave them the right to form their union.
However, he added, other labour laws needed to be implemented with more focus on farm workers. He noted that the Tenancy Act had become outdated, and stressed the need for bringing farm workers under labour laws to ensure provision of more benefits and facilities to them.
Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA) representative Abdul Kareem Talpur said that issues of farm workers should be sorted out and resolved seriously.
Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) senior vice chairman Mustafa Mirani said that employers of cotton pickers should be made to follow labour laws and ensure provision of their rights to these farm workers. The rights, he said, included good working conditions and medical facility.
Women cotton pickers from Peer Bukhsh Kaka village, Memon Ji Wasee and other areas highlighted the issues being faced by their fellow workers.
HRCP activist Jameelur Rehman and agriculture official Zulfiqar Jagirani also shared their views at the dialogue.