KARACHI - Trade unionists of the United Kingdom, old comrades of the labour movement of Pakistan and progressive Pakistani diasporas living in England have formed “Friends of PILER” (FoP), a network, in London to muster international support for Pakistani workers.
The FoP initiative originated from the debate around the significance of linking local and regional networks with international movements and struggles calling for a pro-worker and equality-based economic order.
The labour rights struggle in Pakistan grapples with an excessively narrow-based legislative and institutional framework covering labour issues, an economy fraught with inequalities, a political space with a visible bias towards the powerful elite, and a state order dominated by forces that are obsessed with their own survival and their own vested interests.
Less than two percent of the total labour force of Pakistan is unionised. This takes away any power from the workers to negotiate a favourable deal from the state or the private entities in charge of the labour market. The growing economic informality pushes over 70 percent of the labour force out of the ambit of the labour laws. Pakistan’s agriculture sector that employs 45 percent of the labour force is covered by no labour laws. Furthermore, the industrial relations act, the labour inspection system, the occupations health and safety mechanisms, and provisions related to child labour and bonded labour all remain inadequate in terms of coverage as well as effectiveness for the working class to benefit from the constitutional guarantees and ILO Conventions ratified by Pakistan on labour protection.
Explaining the purpose of the FoP, Karamat Ali, Executive Director PILER said that the FoP is a network to support the ongoing labour struggles in Pakistan and in the South Asia region. “The initiative is a joint effort of a broad base of pro-rights community in the UK that is committed to the agenda of social justice and equal rights in the international framework. This community has worked with PILER and other organisations and networks in the past contributing positively to strengthen workers rights activism in Pakistan and across the region.”
In a formal statement, the FoP group emphasised that international solidarity has a powerful impact in Pakistan and there are many ways of getting support. “Apart from offering the potential to strengthen the ongoing international movements on labour rights, peace, social justice and equality, the linking of local/regional struggles with global efforts may contribute positively towards the institutional, intellectual and conceptual capacity building of the local movements.
Furthermore, such a linkage may also offer the opportunity to cut the divisive and fragmented order that bogs down the local and regional struggles’ capacity to engage the state and the neo-liberal systems effectively.”
The broader agenda outlined by the FoP as a plan of action for future included: Engaging key actors on labour rights and regional peace; linking international labour struggles with the local movements; creating spaces for regional partners for accessing and sharing of experiences with the broader international community; acting as a forum for lobbying on rights issues pertaining to South Asia and reaching out to a broader community of rights advocates; and raising resources for the institutional strengthening of labour rights initiatives in the region.
Geoff Brown, Secretary, Manchester Trades Union Council (TUC) will act as FoP Secretary. Mushtaq Lasharie of Third World Solidarity, who was the main organiser of the meeting in London said, “We are planning a fringe meeting at the TUC in Brighton on September 10 and a larger meeting in the House of Commons in February/March next year.”
After the London meeting, the Friends of PILER group also visited Durham to attend the traditional Miners’ Gala, where more than 100,000 miners, ex miners of all ages, gather with their families to mark the Durham coalfield miners’ trade unionism. The delegation also visited Leeds and Manchester and met South Asian community that expressed support for the cause of labour rights in South Asia.