Key Initiatives To Improve The Conditions Of The Home-Based Workers Are Not Yet Taken
The Constitution of Pakistan contains a range of provisions with regards to labour rights found in Part II: Fundamental Rights and Principles of Policy. Article 11 of the Constitution prohibits all forms of slavery, forced labour and child labour.
Several labour laws are not in conformity with the constitution and need amendments such as the Industrial Relations Act 2010 which has several hurdles for all workers and it does not permit home-based workers to form their unions.
Home-based workers are not legally recongnised and they are not counted in the economic statistics of Pakistan. According to different estimates, Pakistan has more than 20 million home-based workers and the majority of them are women. The women workforce is mostly not aware of their rights. They do not consider themselves as workers or work as their basic responsibility. Women qualify themselves as helping their menfolk thus not considering themselves as workers. There is a need to first raise awareness among women that they are contributing a lot to society.
The informal economy plays a substantial role in Sindh. A substantial number of labourers force outside the agriculture sector is engaged in activities in the informal economy. One type of work, which has become prominent in the informal economy in recent years, is home-based work, and the population engaged in this type of work is expanding in Sindh.
Millions of Pakistani women are equal partners in the production process but are deprived of all their basic rights. In the economy of Pakistan, the share of the informal sector is more than 80 percent. However, in the informal sector, about 70 percent of workers are women and their number is rising sharply. According to one estimate, their number is 16 million but they are deprived of their due rights as labor. All these women workers are part of the supply chain of the production process, having more than 40 percent share in the national economy.
One critical issue is that working in the informal economy where formal work contracts are rare to see, HBWs are not legally and socially recognised as ‘workers’ whose Safety and basic rights are protected by Labour Law and related policies.
Another fundamental problem is their ‘invisibility’ and ‘segregation’ as each HBW performs different tasks inside one’s house, i.e. private sphere, which outsiders cannot access and know what takes place within it.
As a result, HBWs are often prone to unfair treatment and confronted with various constraints in securing their livelihoods. Some of the difficulties include unstable and unfair remuneration; hazardous and unhealthy working environment; low productivity and revenue; limited negotiation power due to lack of organisation; limited access to financial services, skills training, and market information and access; lack of access to basic social services and social securities.
There is also a concern about child health and labor as children of HBWs face more risks to be exposed to hazardous substances or equipment at home, or to be engaged in unsafe work. Recognising the magnitude and severity of the problem, GoS has taken initiatives to improve the situation of HBWs at various levels. One such initiative by GoS is an attempt for law and policy formulation on HBWs. Although the federal government has not ratified ILO Convention 177, which aims at granting HBWs the same status and the right of workers in the formal sector, both in Punjab and Sindh Province HBWs Policy is drafted per the Convention.
In the area of poverty alleviation and livelihood improvement, numerous programs and services are provided by federal and provincial governments, NGOs, and the private sector. There are innovations and good practices among them; however, the provision of these programs and services is often sporadic and geographically limited with no substantial attempt or strategy for their institutionalization and scaling-up. Besides, there is a need to make these programs and services more HBWs-friendly and gender-sensitive.
Sindh was the first province not only in Pakistan but in South Asia to have passed the Home-Based Workers Act in 2018, which gave these workers a status of recognised workers with social and legal protections like those of other workers. But much more remains to be practically implemented such as HBWs need to be recognised and accepted as workers in their own right through legislative and administrative actions and to ensure the effective promotion and protection of human rights of HBWs and to respect, promote and realise the fundamental principles and rights at work coupled with focusing on the needs, concerns and demands of HBWs through an institutional approach at all levels and to determine minimum wages / as per Minimum wages law, remunerations of HBWs to a just and decent level considering the inflationary trends in the county.
Certain other initiatives need to be taken to make the work of HBWs economically viable by creating, facilitating and regulating the marketing opportunities of their products and to ensure the application of all rights and entitlements on HBWs available to other wage earners performing similar work, including social protection coverage, maternity protection as well as safe and fair conditions of work for them to provide HBWs visibility and opportunity for an organised voice to articulate their concerns and demands through registration and certifications as collective Bargaining Units (CBU)/Collective Bargaining Agent (CBA).
The author is a Development Specialist based in Karachi