IT might be good to hear that the government wants to devise a ‘road map’ to narrow the gender wage gap to 10pc in the next three years, but it is hard to see how any road map to close the gender wage gap can be effective in the absence of the right to form associations and engage in collective bargaining. If they are serious in their intention, then we should see wide legislative steps that try to eliminate discrimination in various forms, as well as resurrect the right to form associations and engage in collective bargaining. Despite having ratified the relevant UN and ILO conventions more than a decade ago, the gender wage gap has only increased, and according to research done by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, now stands at almost 40pc in the garment industry that is a large employer of women. Moreover, it seems that only one-tenth of the country’s labour force enjoys access to rights of association and collective bargaining.
Beyond the gender wage gap, there is a host of other issues that also need to be addressed to make the labour laws of the country more just towards the rights of women workers. Already the vast majority of the country’s workforce is hired on a contract basis so the rights enjoyed by permanent workers need to be extended in order to be effective. There is no concept of maternity leave or other benefits, an absence that hits women workers harder than others. At the moment, the government appears to be reacting to pressure from the European Union which is demanding greater emphasis on women’s labour in order to renew the GSP-Plus preferential trading scheme for Pakistan. In this situation, the will to actually move beyond meetings, discussions and drafts of legislative proposals is absent. The Justice Shafiur Rehman Commission report makes for a good platform to develop such a road map. But the report has been lying dormant for over a decade now and there is little reason to suppose that the present effort to lift it out of obscurity will have any credibility. If the attorney general is serious, he should also lay stress on the rights of association and collective bargaining in developing this road map. Otherwise, it will be obvious they are working on a road map to eyewash and nothing more.