SIALKOT-As many as 6,000 jobless women workers out of total 16,000, most of them football stitchers, have been given jobs after their proper training.

Another batch of 2,000 such females would also be adjusted in new jobs within a stipulated period of one year. The soccer ball industry's 16,000 female stitchers had been made jobless due to the change of the trend of footballs' production from hand-stitching to machine stitching about four years ago.

Sialkot-based soccer ball manufacturers and exporters Safdar, Khalid Mehmood, Iqbal and Ghulam Husain said that hand-stitched inflatable soccer balls had historically been Sialkot's major product. In recent years, the mechanisation of the manufacturing process of inflatable balls had drastically reduced the demand for hand-stitched balls, they said.

As a result, the international buyers are demanding machine-stitched inflatable balls rendering thousands of home-based- stitchers jobless, they added. These jobless workers were breadwinners of their families and after becoming jobless it had become very hard for them to feed them.

The labour policies and law do not legally recognise these workers in the informal sector as workers thus they cannot have claims in labour courts to protect their rights. Left on their own, majority of the workers lack skills, expertise, competence and linkages needed to access to the income generating alternatives.

A few years ago, UN Women Pakistan, Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) and an NGO Baidarie successfully launched a welfare project "integrated support for socioeconomic rehabilitation of the jobless/vulnerable home-based soccer stitchers in Sialkot".

The goal of the project was to ensure maximum empowerment of the HBWs through their capacity building with some other skills enabling them to start their small businesses, and to ensure early provision of safe and secure working environment in the work places.

"It has taken about four years to us to provide them necessary training of other skills and to provide them with new jobs to as many as 6,000 workers," said Arshad Mehmood Mirza, the executive director of Baidarie. He said that effective efforts were being made for their skill development, capacity building and access to job markets by taking all the stakeholders on board.

He urged the government to ensure capacity building of the home-based workers (HBWs), provision of better working opportunities, their training regarding advanced technologies, access to the markets and equality in their salaries as per those of their male colleagues.

They urged the government to take vital steps to save voiceless and ignored women workers from further exploitation, demanding that the Punjab government approve and adopt a policy on home-based workers s in line with ILO Convention 177 to ensure decent working environment on gender responsive basis, expedited necessary legislation for accomplishment of the policy objectives, awarding legal status to HBWs, provision of minimum wage to HBWs, ensuring safe and healthy working environment, admissibility of HBWS for social security, old age pension, worker welfare grants and other legal entitlements, provision of access to job diversification arrangements i.e. skill training and access to job opportunities for home based women soccer stitchers.

Mirza said that UN Women and government were still making strenuous efforts for knowledge building, awareness raising and mobilisation of targeted workers and the relevant stakeholders, formation of workers' groups and their capacity building and skills enhancement in diversified areas of earning livelihood.

He also stressed a need for establishing strong linkages between the HMWs and job providers in Sialkot, globally known for producing the world class sports gears. He added that UN Women was providing all the technical and financial assistance for the HBWs.

Baidarie Chairperson Hina Noureen said majority of women workers and particularly the former stitchers in the formal and informal sectors are not aware of their basic rights, legally admissible social protection coverage and their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining etc. They also do not have vitally required information on the principles of occupational health and safety.

She added that approximately 50 percent of the rural HBWs do not have computerised national identity cards (CNICs) and it deprived them of many legal privileges like social protection coverage and eligibility to find employment in the formal sector. In the general course of their lives, they are also subjected to gender discriminations, harassment and violence in both domestic and professional spheres, she said.

"In Sialkot's prevailing circumstances, the vast majority of jobless women workers lack skills, expertise, capacity and linkages needed for having access to income generating alternatives. Neither they have information of facilities that may impart training relevant to the market requirements nor do they have easy access to such facilities available in the city centre," she added.