Workers hold ‘parallel’ labour conference at Shimla Hill roundabout


LAHORE: Different labour and civil society organisations under the banner of Labour Action Committee (LAC) on Wednesday started a three-day protest demonstration and a parallel labour conference on the road to oppose the Punjab government’s South Asia Labour Conference that is opening at a luxury hotel today (Thursday).Labour organisations participating in the road conference are of the view that some handpicked non-government organisations (NGOs) and some pocket union leaders were participating in the regional conference against the real demands of the labour class and also to ‘silence opposition to the government conference’.Under the umbrella of LAC, Awami Workers Party (AWP), Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM), Textile Power Loom Garment Workers Union Punjab, Labour Education Foundation (LEF), Pattan Development Organisation, Pakistan Institute of Education and Research (PIER), HomeNet Pakistan and other labour organisations, NGOs, and civil society organisations are participating in the road conference.Over 500 political activists and labourers from across the province are participating in the demonstration in front of the Lahore Press Club. They blocked the Shimla Hill roundabout by fixing tents and announced that they would continue their protest demonstration for the next three days, parallel to the government’s conference.Later, they held a sit-in and started their road conference in which different political, trade union, and civil society leaders took turns to speak to the gathering.They said that despite repeated appeals, the Punjab government showed no interest in implementing labour laws, including minimum wages in the province, which forced them to hold a parallel conference.AWP’s Sarwar Bari and Shazia Khan, LQM’s Aslam Meraj, Latif Ansari, Nazli Javed and Javed Bhatti, PIER’s Tariq Awan and LEF’s Khalid Mehmood, and Niaz Ahmad said that due to non-payment of minimum wages and other legal benefits, worker parents were being forced to send their children to work instead of school. They said that most of the 4 million out-of-school children in the province belong to families whose employers violate labour laws and that it is because of this reason that the government’s aim to enrol 100 percent children in schools had failed to materialise.They said that despite several assurances given by the Punjab government, the condition of minimum 50 workers for registration of union had not been withdrawn. They said that non-availability of judges at the National Industrial Relations Commission (NIRC) and sacking of trade union leaders from the PTCL, KESC and other institutions clearly showed that the government had no commitment to protect workers’ rights. They further said that only a tiny percentage of the working class was receiving EOBI and social security benefits as the relevant government departments were involved in corrupt practices and take bribe from employers. They also said that working conditions in most of the factories did not fulfil safety and hygiene standards but that the labour department had not taken a single employer to task for this. They said that employers violate labour laws with complete impunity because most of the factory owners were the backbone of the ruling party.They said that the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010, had not been implemented in most of government departments and a large number of offices and factories. They said that the government must have taken concrete steps prior to holding such a conference if it was serious about improving working conditions in factories and also serious about ensuring well-being of the working class. They said that the government was not willing to take any concrete step to implement the existing labour laws in letter and spirit. They urged the government to remove all restrictions on trade unions, start paying income support to all those workers whose employers have refused to pay minimum wages and to abolish the labour department and replace it with a labour commission. They also urged all ‘genuine’ labour activists and civil society organisations to boycott the regional conference unless the government takes concrete steps to implement the existing labour laws and ensures payment of minimum wages to all workers in the province prior to the conference.

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