Another May Day
MAY Day has turned into just another ritual. Well-intentioned speeches are made, seminars held and token marches organised to mark the day. In fact, there would be little protest if the holiday were scrapped altogether. In spite of this apathy, working men and women here continue to face many challenges. The president and prime minister made all the right noises this May Day, but far more needs to be done to improve the lot of the workforce. Political parties — which used to be at the forefront of the workers’ movement — have ineffectual labour wings more concerned with union politics than with campaigning for labour rights. From being a central plank in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s PPP-led government of the 1970s, today the issue of workers’ rights is on the back burner. The fall of the USSR and the ineffectiveness of the leftist movement in Pakistan are contributing factors. Today the power of unions has been diminished while the number of unionised workers is on the decline.
To its credit, the present government has taken the right steps, such as reversing Gen Musharraf’s anti-labour regulations. But devolution has presented a new set of challenges, placing more responsibility on the provinces to formulate and enforce labour laws. A dedicated labour movement is needed more than ever in this age of retrenchments, cost-cutting and corporate ruthlessness. As trade unionists point out, there are plenty of laws; what is lacking is their enforcement. The contract system is considered a major evil, depriving workers of most benefits. While the state needs to enforce the laws on the books and introduce new legislation where required, the unions must also re-energise themselves to protect the rights of the workforce in a system which tramples on the rights of workers even as it benefits from the fruit of their labour.