As the story goes, one of our ex-ministers was invited to the inauguration of a new ward in a government hospital. On his way to the ceremony, he noticed a board with a writing ‘Labour Room’ hanging outside. He very gladly turned back and congratulated the doctor for taking care of the labour community in the country. Such is the level of education of our leaders and, more importantly, their lack of knowledge pertaining to the awareness to the labour laws.

Moreover, like every year, the Labour Day in Pakistan will pass as always with most of the people utilising it for excursion trips without giving any thought to its importance, despite the fact that it is celebrated worldwide with great enthusiasm.

Historically speaking, the International Workers' Day (also known as Labour Day or May Day) is a celebration of the international labour movement. It is the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago. The police were trying to disperse a public assembly during a general strike for the eight-hour workday and, subsequently, reacted by firing on the workers, thus killing dozens of them.

As for Pakistan, the first labour policy was devised in 1972, in which May 1 was declared an official holiday. The 1973 constitution also contains various provisions and articles about labour rights. However, it is unfortunate that despite the passage of so many years, no concrete steps have been taken to address the issues of the working class and their exploitation at every level is something to be ashamed of as a nation.

In additon, Pakistan became a member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) right after its independence in 1947. The ILO is a specialised agency of the United Nations, which promotes social justice and universally acknowledged human and social rights. However, despite its early entry into ILO, Pakistan has failed to even implement the basic and fundamentals guidelines. So nothing has changed and, apparently, nothing will change for the workforce.

One such issue pertains to the implementation of minimum wages for the workers and its subsequent implementation. A large number of labours working in our country are daily wagers. Holidays, strikes, Eid days and finally the ‘Labour Day’ means nothing, but hunger for the several upcoming days.

The daily wagers, who are living hand to mouth, earning and spending each day, following their lean earning mode, a day off means no income for that day and hunger for the coming day; this is how we are helping our labours. Rules exist, but the powerful business lobbies set their own rules to annihilate the masses and in the process increase their wealth.

The non-implementation of safety standards pertaining to the labour laws have resulted in many tragedies. For the last few years, we have witnessed ‘massacres’ in Pakistan that are more heart-breaking than the killing of workers in Chicago, which owes to the outcome of Criminal Violation of Labour Protection Laws.

More than 1,500 workers worked at the Ali Enterprises in Baldia Town, Karachi. Reportedly, 260 plus perished when the fire gutted the building on September 11, 2012. The building had no functioning emergency exit points, while the windows remained covered with metal bars for security reasons. Around 650 workers were trapped behind the locked doors in the factory at the time when the fire broke out. A majority of the deaths resulted from suffocation, as the fire engulfed the building.

As if that was not enough, 21 people were burned to death and 14 others suffered multiple injuries after a fire broke out in a shoe-manufacturing unit in Shafeeqabad, on Bund Road, Lahore on September 11, 2012. Most of the dead, between 14 and 30 years of age, were labourers from different parts of Punjab, who were trapped inside the 10-marla factory because there was only one entry-exit point. It seems that such incidents are becoming a regular occurrence It seems that such incidents are becoming a regular occurrence in Pakistan, where the labour inspection system in industrial units stands dysfunctional with active “support” from the corrupt state officials.

In order to avoid the occurrence of such incidents, international labour standards have to be put in place. These refer to the conventions agreed upon by international actors, resulting from a series of value judgments, set forth to protect basic worker rights, enhance workers’ job security and improve their terms of employment on a global scale. The intent of such standards is to establish a worldwide minimum level of protection from inhumane labour practices through the adoption and implementation of said measures.

From a theoretical standpoint, it has been maintained, on ethical grounds, that there are certain basic human rights that are universal to mankind. Thus, it is the aim of international labour standards to ensure the provision of such rights in the workplace, such as against workplace aggression, bullying, discrimination and the gender inequality on the other hands for working diversity, workplace democracy and empowerment.

Similarly, child labour is another sad story to cover that blackens our track record of child abuse. The poor condition of children at every workplace is a common sight, while people walk by looking at this abuse with no remorse.

The federal government must fully implement labour laws to ensure that the workers get their rights and are not exploited by powerful capitalists and industrialists. Indeed, the capitalist system allows exploitation. It protects the capitalist and ignores the rights of ordinary citizens. Needless to say, the real issue is the non-implementation of labour laws.

Improvements in organisational behaviour are required, which will include giving proper contract letters to the workers, ensuring minimum wages, restoration of labour inspection teams and devising management frameworks for the labours. Only revisiting and firming the implementation of these steps are required, as most of them are already part of the labour laws. Let’s make a beginning today.

The writer is a PhD in Information Technology, alumni of King’s College London and a social activist. He is life member of the Pakistan Engineering Council and senior international editor for IT Insight Magazine. He has authored two books titled Understanding Telecommunications and Living In The Grave and several research papers.