KARACHI - Human and labour rights and civil society activists, gathered at the second day of the two-day national conference titled “Human Rights and Labour Rights: Towards an Enabling Environment for Compliance” on Wednesday and demanded the provincial governments to fix minimum wages of unskilled workers at Rs 30,000 per month as workers are facing hardships in meeting their living expenses due to escalating prices and other expenses.

The conference, organised by Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) in collaboration with National Commission for Human Rights and Sindh Human Rights Commission minutely discussed various problems of the workers in the context of labour rights, human rights and right to development.

The participants, who deliberated in details in groups’ work, expressed their concern over declining trade unions’ membership and demanded of the federal as well as provincial governments to take serious measures to ensure provision of fundamental rights of association and collective bargaining to all workers as enshrined in the Constitution.

The participants welcomed the presentation of a law for home based workers in Sindh Assembly and urged other provincial governments to make similar initiatives through a tripartite mechanism. The labour leaders demanded universal coverage of the social security, and mployees Oldage Benefit Institution (EOBI) all other welfare benefits including workers’ access to calculated and described benefits. Misuse of workers’ money be stopped, they said.

The human rights activists expressed serious concern on shrinking spaces for freedom of expression, freedom of press, freedom of association and freedom of information. “We demand that these basic freedoms must not be curtailed in all circumstances.” They said the ongoing campaign against civil society organizations must be stopped. Their right to contribute in defense and realization of human rights must be ensured. The participants said the government must remove impression that extremist elements are operating under its protection and connivance of state functionaries and take effective measures to eradicate hate speech and intolerance from society and guarantee freedom of religion and belief to all its citizens.

The conference participants recommended that the Right to Life to be interpreted in a border manner. It should include guarantees to basic necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, health cover and right to work. The subject of Human Rights especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) needs to be incorporated in the syllabus in the face of increasing disrespect for human rights at State and Society level.

The participants underlined the need that all political parties in Pakistan should include agenda of human rights promotion and protection in their respective election manifestoes. They should especially focus on protection of minorities and labor workers in Pakistan. We are deeply dissatisfied with process of election in Pakistan. Only rich can take part in the process. We call for reforms so that all people of Pakistan with modest means have level playing field to contest elections.” Especially representations of women, workers and peasants have to be ensured.

The participants pointed out that over 25 million children in Pakistan are out of schools. It stands brazen violation of Article 25A, which ensures free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years. “Thus we demand that State should take measures at emergency basis to make sure that no children is deprived of this fundamental right.”

The Conventions attached to GSP-Plus facility by the European Union also have a number of labour, human rights, environmental and biodiversity related treaties that Pakistan is obliged to deliver on. However, Pakistan’s development policies are not adequately considerate of environment nor are there strong structures guarding people’s rights to natural resources and environmental conservation.

The participants agreed that the right to development is linked to the right to life, and its framework needs to be participatory and representative of communities.

They further agreed that dirty technology including coal needs to be turned down as the world over, it has led to catastrophic impacts on life, environment and human and other species’ population

Prominent among those who attended the second day of the conference included I A Rahman of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Chairperson, Sindh Human Rights Commission Justice (Retd.) Majida Razvi, Justice (r) Zahoor Shahwani, Member of National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) from Balochistan, Khurshid Ahmed of All Pakistan Workers Confederation, human rights activist Bushra Khaliq, PILER’s Executive Director Karamat Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed from Institute of Labour Rights, Jamil Junejo from Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Abira Ashfaq, Zeenia Shaukat and others.