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Big Win For Contract Labour As Apex Court Upholds Their Right To Organise

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A Supreme Court’s verdict has reiterated and endorsed the rights of contract workers. In a decision given on an appeal by Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC), the court has said that the use of labour contractors by a company cannot be used as a means to curb the fundamental rights of workers. The judgment sets a precedent by recognising the inalienable right to form unions or hold referendums by labour regardless of the contracts between employers and labour contractors.

The judgment was issued by a two-member bench of Supreme Court headed by Justice Maqbool Baqar against a ruling by Islamabad High Court given on Dec 7, 2018 in response to petition by Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC).

The SSGC had employed over 3,000 workers and whether they could be entitled to the right of trade union and participate in voting became an issue of contention as the SSGC contested their inclusion. On the other hand, the trade union representative argued before the court that excluding those workers who were performing jobs of permanent nature would equate to depriving them of their fundamental rights. Justice Baqar maintained that Section 19(4) of Industrial Relations Act (IRA) required the registrar to include in the voters’ list the name of every workman, whose period of employment in the establishment exceeded three months.

The only requirement for the membership of a union was being a member of the workforce and being registered as a voter. A similar earlier judgment from 2013 was also cited in the SC judgment pertaining to Fauji Fertilizer Company. If the relationship existed between employer and employee hired directly by establishment or through labour contractors, the workmen could not be deprived of formulating unions to assert and protect their due rights.

The verdict explained that the workers performed those functions for the benefit of the company and thus they were entitled to their rights under the law. The workers enlisted as voters were rendering services as security guards, janitors, gardeners and of meter reading etc.

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Naya Daur