Clash of views results in delay in finalisation of Industrial Act draft

By Kazim Alam, The Express Tribune

KARACHI: Factional rivalries, clash of egos and lack of tolerance for divergent views caused a rumpus on Monday at the consultative session on the proposed draft for the Sindh Industrial Relations Act (IRA), 2011.

While there were attempts to build a consensus on the draft that the Workers Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan (Webcop) had prepared 20 months ago in consultation with a tripartite committee – which had representation of employees, employers and the government – strong differences re-emerged within trade unionists over the contents of the proposed document during the meeting, further delaying the draft’s finalisation for a week.

Workers’ representatives will now submit their suggestions, which will be incorporated in the final draft to be presented before the provincial labour ministry. It will become an Act if the Sindh Assembly passes it.

Designed to define and regulate a framework for the engagement between employers and workers, a Parliamentary Act on industrial relations is supposed to deal with issues such as trade unionism, collective bargaining, workers’ participation in management and dispute resolution.

According to the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), there are more than 7,000 trade unions in Pakistan. However, they represent less than 3% of the total workforce because the IRA, 2008 – like other IRAs issued in the past – bars over 80% of the labour force from forming a union.

For example, a little less than half of the labour force that is engaged in agriculture has never been covered under successive IRAs. Similarly, the armed forces, police, PIA security staff, wage-earners above pay group ‘V’, Pakistan Security Printing Corporation, government hospitals and education institutions, and self-employed workers have also remained excluded from IRAs. However, the draft under consideration calls for the extension of the IRA’s scope by including workers employed in agriculture, fishing and mining as well.

The tripartite committee that prepared draft for the proposed IRA, 2011, in March 2011 consisted of 10 representatives from employers, five representatives from the provincial labour department and 16 trade unionists.

One of the key contentious issues, for example, was the elimination of ‘work councils’ from the proposed draft. Previous IRAs mandated the existence of work councils for dispute resolution between employers and employees. While one group of trade unionists said the suggested move was tantamount to betraying the workers’ movement, another group insisted that work councils were part of the proposed draft, albeit under a new name.

Speaking on the occasion, Sindh Labour Secretary Arif Ilahi urged trade unionists to finalise and forward the draft as soon as possible so that it could be presented before the Sindh Assembly before the next general election.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 20, 2012.

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