The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) held a consultative workshop in Karachi to highlight the problems faced by home based workers (HBW) and the solutions society and the government together could provide to solve these issues. Unfortunately, national or international labour laws do not protect the HBWs, depriving them of a decent work environment. The international labour organizations define decent work as something that ensures adequate remuneration, protection at the workplace, opportunities for promotion, freedom of expression, right to form unions and equal opportunities for men and women. Since most of the HBW comprises women, one can well conceive the level of discrimination and exploitation faced by them, considering our general behaviour towards women.
These women face multiple problems, including restrictions on their physical mobility, inadequate education, a lack of skills, limited access to productive resources or credit and scant state support. These constrains make them an easy target for exploitation. In spite of their signification contribution to the national economy, their work is undervalued while they are denied all forms of legal protections including minimum wage guarantees and social security benefits. The HBWs are dependent on the contractor to provide them credit (since formal sources of credit are denied to them) in times of need, which is often converted into a tool of exploitation, leading to the entire family including children working for the contractor to pay off the debt. HBWs are not given fixed wages, instead they are paid on a piece rate basis. Though they work long hours producing labour intensive products, the remuneration they get hardly exceed Rs 50 per day.
The HRCP has recommended to the government to acknowledge the HBWs as labour so that the government laws apply to them. For the past few years, women’s organisations had been preparing draft legislation titled ‘Home Based Women Workers Social Protection Bill’. While this bill was tabled in the National Assembly in 2007 and has undergone several revisions since, it has not yet been approved.
The government along with the International Labour Organisation and rights groups should develop a comprehensive action plan ensuring the rights of HBWs. As a first step, these workers should be registered so that they at least start having social security benefits. The HRCP has also recommended acknowledging domestic workers as part of the workforce so that they too are protected against exploitation in the absence of legal protection. It is time that the government takes up the cause of HBWs seriously and do something substantial for them, especially when their contribution to the national economy is considerable.