KARACHI: Rights activists at a convention on Monday demanded that the government formulate a national policy for home-based workers (HBWs) and legislate to recognise them as workers so that they also benefited from various social welfare schemes of the government.
They were speaking at the first convention of the Home-Based Women Workers Federation, organised jointly by the Homenet South Asia, Labour Education Foundation and Homenet Pakistan at the Arts Council.
A number of HBWs from various parts of the country, rights activists, Sindh labour and women development ministers, delegates from Nepal and India participated in the programme.
The speakers highlighted the need for ratification of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 177, which relates to HBWs.
Although the government had fixed Rs7,000 as minimum monthly wages for unskilled workers, the HBWs despite being skilled did not receive even that, they said. Besides, they added, the HBWs were more vulnerable to exploitation as they didn’t
have job security and medical and other facilities.
Sindh Labour Minister Amir Nawab said that in the current situation when regular workers did not get their due rights, the condition of HBWs was grimmer in the absence of job security.
While workers struggling for their rights in other countries won privileges over the years, their rights in this part of the world were curtailed, he said, citing the example of Industrial Relations Ordinance (IRO). He said that many of the rights that
workers had under the IRO-1969 were curtailed under the IRO-2002, which was promulgated by retired General Pervez Musharraf.
The minister urged the people in general and workers in particular to strengthen democracy, insisting that people and workers had more rights in India, where democracy continued since independence, as compared to Pakistan where democratic governments had been sabotaged after brief intervals by repressive dictatorial regimes.
Sapna Joshi, regional coordinator of the Homenet South Asia, said that industrialists, particularly those in the developing countries of the South Asia, were shifting work from their factories to homes for maximum profits.
They had hired middlemen or contractors to get their work done, shrugging off their duties as industrialists to their workers who subsequently had lost job security, medical and other benefits.
Tracing the history of her organisation, she said the Homenet was set up in South Asia in 2000 keeping in view the exploitative conditions under which home-based workers work. She said the NGO had been trying to organise HBWs and lobbying with governments to legislate to safeguard their rights.
Draft policies ready
She said that currently draft national policies regarding HBWs had been prepared in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan and India and were under discussions by the stakeholders and being finetuned and hopefully proper legislation safeguarding HBWs rights would be in place soon.
Ms Joshi said since the issues being faced by HBWs in the region were almost identical she would suggest to HBWs to forge unity and organize themselves at the regional levels so that they could raise their issues effectively.
Nepal Homenet chief Om Thapaliya said that there were over 17 million workers in Nepal and around 2.2 million of them were HBWs. Most of the HBWs were women, who remained unorganised and thus vulnerable to exploitation, he said.
He said minimum wages in Nepal were Rs6,100 (Nepalese rupees) a month but most HBWs hardly made around Rs1,700 by the end of month. He said that the HBWs were not even considered workers in the eyes of the law so they could not benefit from any social security schemes of the government.
Nasir Mansoor of the Labour Education Foundation said that definitions of workers, employers, workplace, etc as prescribed in the archaic labour laws needed to be updated, revised and changed particularly keeping in view the new phenomenon of the HBWs.
He cited the example of footballs prepared by HBWs that fetched over $50 million to the country. He explained that for each football that was sold for around Rs10,000 in developed countries, HBWs received between Rs100 and Rs150.
He said that hardly 10 to 15 per cent per cent of the world’s population living in developed countries controlled over 90 per cent of the resources and people of the developing countries, having fewer resources, remained divided on the basis of ethnicity, regionalism, religion, sects etc and were vulnerable to exploitation.
He regretted that the delegates from Bangladesh could not come as the Pakistani high commission there did not issue visas to them.
Ume Laila, Homenet Pakistan chief, said that there were around 73 labour-related laws in Pakistan but none of them was relevant to HBWs. Their number was increasing in the region due to economic factors, she said, adding that inflation, which used to increase on a yearly basis, was now rising on a monthly basis.
According to her, approximately 84 per cent people lived under the poverty line that means they were earning less than $2 a day.
Sindh Women Development Minister Tauqeer Fatima Bhutto, delegates from Nepal Apsara Maharjan and Bindu Shrestha, Zehra Khan of the HBWWF, Parveen Sakhi from Quetta, Zubaida Awan and Perveen Akhar from Punjab, Anny Yunius, Rafiq Baloch, Khalid Mehmood, Shafiq Ghauri, Irfana Jabbar, Saira Feroz and others also spoke.