Human beings are very important for industrial productions all over the world. In developed economies of prosperous countries they are important as consumers and in the developing economies like ours as workers. Irony is that in developing countries, this vital resource is still being exploited.
Workers found sitting in a linear fashion with their tools — mountains of paint brushes, piles of colour scheme cards, number of empty paint cans, digging paraphernalia and or hammers of different kind (who said unskilled labour) — along any city roads and squares are indicators to the non existing work opportunities in the country. In is in this context that workers’ are found being exploited in local industries with no relief in sight.
But this is not about unemployment. The point here is about the plight of those who are fortunate enough to bag a job in factories, firms and production houses; the employed workforce. Given the state of unemployment, the pressing monetary needs of workers are exploited by some of the employers: non-standard practices like hiring and firing as they please, paying the workers far less than what they should, disregarding safety precautions and welfare measure and saving on costs of human lives. Result: Industries collectively and economic houses individually have lower productivity, low employees morale and poor image in global market.
It is no secret that some economic houses maintain two sets of documents; one for the external auditor, government agencies and choosy foreign buyers and another for counting own economic profit. Some units only keep a nucleolus permanent staff, do not hire labour and get the work done on contract paying per piece instead of wages at flat rate. Contractors get the compensation per piece and pay to the workers what and when they want to. Paradoxically, the jobs are booked against the name of individual workers where they have to sign on the job cards but the payment is made to the contractor – the middle man.
Paying Compensatory Pay for Leave and or Over Time as deemed appropriate by the employer instead as required by law, not granting annual increment where it is due or not giving the proper rate of increment, and or not making payments on time are some other unfair practices in vogue. The payment rules differ for those who are fired than those who leave the job voluntarily. To counter this, some employers get the resignation letters signed by their serving employees, just in case.
Ergonomics are also neglected issues in some of the work premises. Tens — even hundreds — of thousands of workers continue to suffer from injuries suffered on the job with no relief in sight. What to talk of ergonomics, visit industrial workplaces and one finds that common provision and safety precautions like restrooms, water points, rest shelters, emergency exits, ear plugs, gloves and masks, proper ventilation are non-existing at most places. It is basic requirement to have an emergency plan at any workplace if lives are to be saved if and when disaster hits. Workers should be involved in creating the plan and, most important, it must be practiced by everyone if it is to work when needed. Such plans do not exist. And where emergency standard operating procedures have been formulated, they are not practiced regularly, or not practiced in company time.
It is these, and similar nightmares of the workplaces that have led to factory acts, labour protection laws and a whole slew of regulations and improvements designed to prevent such horrors inflicting workers. When we look at the laws, we assume that workers could never be subject to risks and unnecessary hazards. We rarely understand that they — we — still are. It is because the laws are not being practiced in true letters and spirits. What is more, the widespread and obvious work methods in corporate sector has given way to less visible, but often more insidious, incidences of exploitation in the places of work.
It seems that the successive governments, labour welfare departments and labour unions have failed to protect the workers from exploitation and implementing the labour laws that are already in place. Now the trading partners (read foreign buyers) have assumed responsibility to get our labour laws and, ergonomics and safety measures implemented and ensure their compliance for us in order to “establishing a favourable trading environment and to motivate Pakistani economic houses to continue its trade reform and overall liberalization.”
Pakistan’s growing and developing economy is vulnerable to external trade barriers of many kinds. Some time ago focus of foreign buyers was on child labour; the situation has visibly improved in this regards. The country is now paying a high price in terms of export losses on other accounts.
Cancellations of orders, not lifting the shipments or rejecting the products even after delivery are some cases in point.
There is a direct link between thriving economic activities, working conditions and the well being of workers. So far the pursuit of the bottom line by many companies means workers endure truly hellish working conditions every day and not on adoption of international standard practices. One wonders what will be the conditions when WTO will be in place and our work practices will be much more prone to outsiders’ intervention and they will be even more selective.
The need is that industries prepare themselves for standard international practices and come up in a way that they could survive more global market in future. Sadly, this has not started happening yet.