Islamabad - Bonded labour activists (BLAs) yesterday urged the government to take strict action against the kiln owners involved in bonded and child labour by violating Punjab Child Labour Act (PCLA) of 2016.

Talking to APP, the activists have also demanded basic rights for kiln-workers and said that the workers were being denied fair wages from the kiln owners. They said the government had the mandate to work for the welfare of labourers and their families and to align national labour laws with the Pakistan’s international obligations on labour standards.

All Pakistan Trade Union Federation (APTUF) representative Rubina Jamil said that millions of home-based women workers should be given their due rights as per the constitution and labour laws.

Rubina, however welcomed the action against brick-kiln owners, terming it a wise decision by the government. She lauded government for constituting Vigilance Committee (VC) to address issues of child labour at brick-kilns across the country.

Appreciating the new law in Punjab regarding child labor at brick kilns, she said the District Administration should adopt and implement the law in letter and spirit.

Zehra Khan, labour rights expert said in Pakistan, the economy had been shifting from the formal to non-formal sector rapidly. She said that all these basic rights that should have been given to them as per the constitution of the country, labour laws and different international labour conventions and standards, were being denied.

General Secretary of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF), Syeda Ghulam Fatima have demanded basic rights for kiln-workers by paying them fair wages from the kiln’s owners. She said that the kiln owners are outraged by the demands for basic rights, and often kidnap or torture man and women kiln workers by implicating them in false criminal cases.

Fatima said that unfortunately a majority of the 4.5 million brick-kiln workers in Pakistan were facing wages payment problems. She said that in this way the owners wanted to “break their backs,” so the workers can never ask for their rights.

Syeda Ghulam Fatima said that in August, the apex court had issued a ruling that brick-kiln workers should be issued social security cards under the Employees’ Social Security Ordinance 1965. The court also forbade the owners from giving loans to workers that amount to more than 15 days of wages, she said.

BBLF senior member Mehar Safdar Ali said that the Apex court order was meant to curb the practice of brick-kiln owners forcing their workers into debt cycles they can never pay off. He said that because the debt is illegally transferred to heirs on death, it forces the workers and their future generations to work for the same owners.

Mukhtar Ahmad, 45, another representative of kiln workers in capital/adjoining areas told APP that they are forced into bonded labour, denied minimum wages and harassed and implicated in fake cases if they try to resist the oppression of influential brick-kiln owners. The government has fixed minimum wage at Rs 740 per 1,000 bricks, but owners give us less than Rs 300,” said Mukhtar.

“The owners sell the same bricks at around Rs 7,000 per 1,000 bricks in the market, he added”.

Rafaqat Ali, another brick-kiln worker, said that baking 1,000 bricks takes a minimum of two workers and at least a full day. He said that the owners cut advance from their wages, money that they had lent to the workers during a week’s work.

Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) Executive Director Dr Karamat Ali said that the federal government was functioning in close coordination with the Provincial Governments to revive new labour and employment laws which were on its concurrent legislative list.

To a question, Dr Karamat said that tripartite labour conferences should be held in all provinces assuring the participation of the representatives of the federation of the home-based women workers. He further said that factories were being registered with provincial social security programmes which offer free school facilities for children of workers and free medical treatment.