On International Human Rights Day, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Pakistan organised a roundtable discussion in Karachi, where senior political leaders from major political parties gathered to elucidate their party manifestos and policies for workers' welfare. The event, held at a crucial juncture with the impending general elections in 2024, served as a platform to underscore the stance of political parties on labour rights.
Dr Niels Hegewisch, Country Director of FES Pakistan, warmly welcomed political leaders and trade unionists, highlighting the opportune moment as parties seek public support for the upcoming elections. He provided insights into the origins of the Social Democratic Movement in Germany and Europe in the political struggle for better working and living conditions of the working class. He emphasised the transformative power of workers' actions in shaping democratic norms.
Abdullah Dayo, Programme Advisor at FES Pakistan, presented an analysis of party manifestos from the previous general elections. He highlighted commitments towards workers' rights, addressing critical issues faced by the labour community, including social security, the Workers' Welfare Fund, minimum wage concerns, and the inclusion of contractual workers in social safety nets.
The roundtable provided an opportunity for political leaders to express their perspectives on workers' rights. Senator Taj Haider of PPP emphasised the leadership role of the public sector and advocated for fundamental rights, minimum wage increases, skill development, and healthcare. Dr. Mairaj-ul-huda Siddiqui of Jamate-e-Islami pledged to protect workers' rights through land reforms and ensure fair profit-sharing for workers in formal and informal sectors.
Taha Ahmed, a Member of MQM's central coordination committee, advocated for practical reforms in the representation of workers and peasants in parliament and highlighted MQM's focus on vocational and professional training. Nasir-Uddin Mehmood of PMLN highlighted unemployment as a critical issue and outlined the party's steps to include labour welfare in its manifesto.
Akbar Shah Hashmi of JUI-F stressed a labour policy grounded in Islamic principles, proposing reserved seats for the labour class in both houses of parliament. Dr. Bakhshal Thalho of Awami Workers Party critiqued capital-intensive policies, emphasised the importance of public institutions, and urged the faithful implementation of ILO core conventions.
Representatives from labour unions also had their say. Ch. Yaseen of the Pakistan Workers Federation (PWF) advocated for implementing ILO conventions, reserving parliamentary seats for workers, and increasing unionisation. Veteran labour activist Habibuddin Junaidi commended Sindh government's efforts in legislation for domestic workers, social security, and workers' welfare board empowerment.
Nasir Mansoor of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) called for serious intentions from political parties on labour welfare. Senior women's rights activist Farhat Parveen advocated for land reforms, including social protection of fundamental rights, constitutional amendments for regular local body elections, and strict anti-harassment law implementation.
Ghulam Mustafa of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) recognised media workers' rights and urged legislation for media workers' protection. Liaquat Sahi, a trade union leader, criticised political parties' incompetence in protecting labour rights and highlighted issues of the third-party contract system and non-permanent employment status formalisation. Quamrul-Hasan advocated replacing the Industrial Relations Act with a more progressive law to strengthen trade unions and emphasised the importance of the right to association and industrial relations.
The event concluded with a vote of thanks from Dr Niels Hegewisch, Country Director of FES Pakistan.