Pakistan: Decent Work Check launched - June 2010

The 'Decent Work Check' tool for Pakistan has been launched. Here is an interview of a study into Legislation and Labor and Employment law in Pakistan.

The WageIndicator launched earlier this year its Decent Work Check for Pakistan, a tool for Pakistanis to investigate whether their work complies with both national laws and international regulations. 

When you compare the labor laws and regulations in Pakistan with other developing countries, Pakistan is not doing bad at all. The country complies with most international treaties. But is that the whole story? We sat down with Iftikhar Ahmad, the author of the Decent Work Check, a former official of the Pakistan Ministry of Labor and currently studying at Industrial and Labor Relations School, Cornell University in the US.

For his study, he recently finished a paper on the Labor and Employment laws in Pakistan you can find here. Pakistan has a labor force of over 50 million, on a total population of 167 million. Women constitute ten million of the labor force. Pakistan is the 6th most populated country in the world. Pakistan as a country does not only see fast and drastic political and economic changes, the labor situation and its regulations are equally changing fast.

When you look at the labor laws in place, Pakistan is not doing bad at all. How important are these regulations really on the working places?

Iftikhar Ahmad: The real problem is enforcement. Federal government is responsible for enactment of legislation; while the provincial governments are supposed to enforce these laws. They are not doing their part, mainly due to the paucity of resources. The best way to see whether some country is enforcing its own labor laws would be to look at CEACR report of ILO, an expert committee publishing annual reports on labor. When you look at these reports, you find that the problem with developing countries like Pakistan is enforcement of their laws, these countries are quite protective of labor but only in terms of legislation. That's the reason I don't consider Doing Business and Global Competitiveness Reports right because these compare countries in terms of legislation and not in terms of enforcement.

Labor laws have to be approved also on a provincial level. You give a few examples when that is not being done. In general, would provincial government just accept federal regulations, or are they a real barrier?

Iftikhar Ahmad: Provincial Governments used to accept federal legislation and tried to enforce that within their possible means. However, after passage of 18th Amendment to the Constitution on April 20, 2010, federal government can no longer interfere with the labor affairs and can't force provinces to enforce or enact legislation on its demand. I see all this as an inadvertent move as federal government should have kept some of the labor affairs within its jurisdiction. It is the federal government which has to ensure the application and implementation of international labor standards, signed and ratified by it, not the provincial governments. So, I believe that federal government will soon reverse this part of amendment and would try to keep labor matters again within its own jurisdiction.

What is then the deciding force behind legislation's? It is the market, the employers, the government, the trade unions?

Iftikhar Ahmad: It is most of the time the government which takes initiatives and bring up the legislation. It also depends on which party is in power. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP - incumbent) is generally considered to be more pro-labor. Some of the pro-labor legislation comes from the colonial past and other was enacted mainly during Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto regime (1971-77), a populist and pro-labor leader, influenced by socialism and founder of the PPP. Recently, civil society and NGO's have also been playing their role in forcing the government to bring up new pro-labor legislation. An example would be 'Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill' of this year which was supported mainly by NGOs.

In your paper you suggest that some of the legislation has been put in place to look nice internationally. How effective is this strategy for getting foreign companies in?

Iftikhar Ahmad: Did I say that? Even if I did not, this is what the developing countries usually do. They ratify the core International Labor Standards only in order to gain access to EU programs for preferential trade treatment. But the problem with developing countries like Pakistan is what looks good to the ILO, like protective legislation, does not seem good enough to World Bank and IMF, who ask for de-regulation, liberalization and privatization. Have you ever tried to compare countries in terms of severance payments? It is always developing countries like Pakistan which are on the top. To get the foreign companies in, we don't need to have "nicer look" legislation; we just need to build industrial/economic zones where labor laws will not be applicable. This is what is being done in Pakistan as well.

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