Labour surveys need of the hour
Home-based workers continue to be major contributors to the export sector but are not amongst the priorities when export reforms are announced. These workers need to be brought under the minimum wage, working hour limits, old age benefits and social security nets. It is also bizarre that none of the labour surveys or the census exercises in the country have attempted to compile accurate statistics. There is a long way to go before home-based workers get their due recognition. The same home-based workers are voters and have the same rights as any other working citizen. The government would do well to initiate action to bring them into the mainstream labour practices. Underpaid 12-16 hour workdays are the norm for most of the women-dominated home-based work force in Pakistan. Estimates show that over 12 million people in the country are employed via home-based work. These workers are unable to benefit from any labour laws, despite the fact that many of them work longer and more gruelling hours that the formal workforce. The informalisation of their work comes with benefits only for employers who are able to evade the limited checks that do exist on labour practices in the country. Home-based work policies were only notified in Sindh last year while other provinces have been slower to create a framework to register and monitor labour practices in the home-based work sector. These workers make up almost 15 percent of Pakistan’s workforce but remain the lowest priority. The estimated monthly income for a home-based worker who works over 12 hours for six days a week is a paltry Rs4,342 – less than 35 percent of the minimum wage. According to representatives of home-based workers, the process of registering home-based workers has not started. Once it does, the sheer scale of it will require more than one bureaucratic office in a metropolitan city to undertake the task seriously. Most home-based workers are based in villages without the ease of access to bureaucratic structures that could aid their registry once the government initiates a registration process. Home-based work has been a staple of the Pakistani export economy for decades. It is also the place where some of the most exploitative labour practices can be enacted without check.
Still a distant dream
It is hoped that those in policy-making positions will take a serious notice of the recent WEF report on gender issue in our country and set the national priorities right, putting the country on the path of inclusive economic growth and competitiveness. Though worldwide women are faced with the issue of gender parity but in our part of the world it is at extreme. Just imagine, for Pakistan, the prognosis is particularly dark as it ranks 143 out of 144 countries in the gender inequality index. Yes, the World Economic Forum’s latest “Global Gender Gap Report” suggests achieving gender parity is a more distance dream than its earlier guesstimate. Aimed at tracking gaps on critical indicators so that countries may set priorities within their own economic political and cultural contexts, the index points out that the potential role models are the countries that – within their region or income group – are leaders in distributing resources more equitably between women and men, regardless of the overall level of available resources. Previously, WEF had reckoned it would take 170 years to close the gap, the new report now says it will be another 217 years before that goal is achieved. In countries like Pakistan, a vast talent pool that can play a crucial role in social progress and economic development remains vastly underutilized. Although there has been a significant progress on education, it is not leading to gains for women in equivalent earning opportunities, economic independence and leadership. As a matter of fact, all these factors are interlinked; economic independence is the key to gender equality. The way forward is to make a determined effort to induct more and more women in the workforce in leadership positions. The WEF data shows when women are better represented in leadership roles more and more women are hired across the board. Some in such positions consciously hire women within their organisation, others are attracted to companies they see as offering greater opportunities for advancement or mentorship. This, the report found, holds true even when considering disparities in the size of female talent pools across industries. As regards politics, in this country the political parties need to review the present mode of representation of women on reserved seats. Most of them get ‘selected’ for these seats on the basis of being related to influential male politicians or personal connection rather than merit. Genuine activists largely remain ignored. As a result, the ones who make it to the assemblies are not accorded due respect by fellow legislators, and the quality of representation is poor, too. It is imperative, therefore, the political parties allocate a sizeable number of party tickets to their female members so they fight and win elections like their male colleagues. Women who participate in the electoral process in this way can make a lot of difference in bridging the gender inequality gap.