FIRST DOMESTIC WORKERS UNION FORMED IN PAKISTAN

Founder Editor Tazeen Akhtar..

Karachi - Pakistan Workers Federation (PWF) has formed the Domestic Workers’ Trade Union, the very first union of its kind in Pakistan. The ‘Domestic Workers’ Union’ has been registered with the Office of the Registrar Trade Unions, Lahore under the provisions of the Punjab Industrial Relations, 2010. The Union currently has 235 members out of which 225 are female domestic workers. PWF is now in the process registering the Union with the global ‘International Domestic Workers’ Federation’.

 

“We take care of some of the most important things in our employers’ lives, their homes, their children, their food, but our work is not considered important.” Says Ms Shamsad Murree domestic worker in Lahore who has been trained by the project, and is now the Vice President of the Domestic Workers’ Union. “Now that I have the skills and I am part of a trade union, I feel confident in negotiating better wages and terms and conditions for work”.

 

This Domestic Workers’ Trade Union was established under the ILO project, Promoting Gender Equality for Decent Employment (GE4DE), funded by the Canadian government.

 

The project, which aims to improve women’s skills and employment by working with government, employers, workers and media, identified domestic work as a sector where many women were employed in the most vulnerable, unprotected conditions, completely outside the purview of labour laws. Millions of workers including women, girls and boys are engaged in domestic work in Pakistan and are contributing to the informal economy significantly.

 

They are not recognized as ‘workers’ as per the definition of workers set in the national labour laws whose definition only covers workers in the formal sector, working in factories, shops and formal establishments. Without any legal protection they often have to work in exploitative conditions, without any regulation of working hours, terms of employment or wages.

 

Despite these decent work deficits, domestic work is an important source of employment for women in particular, many of whom do not have the skills or education to find alternative employment. It is also important to remember, that their work, helps free up their employers’ time to engage in work and leisure, something particularly important for female employers. Recognising the importance of domestic work, the ILO Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189), provides guidance and benchmarks to ensure decent work in the domestic work sector. To date, a total of 17 countries have ratified the convention. Though Pakistan has not ratified the convention, making domestic work safe, secure and properly paid is a priority of the government, with all provincial departments of Labour identifying domestic work as a policy priority.

 

In Pakistan, the ILO is working with the Women’s Development Department Punjab, All Pakistan Women’s Association, College of Tourism and Hotel Management and Pakistan Workers’ Federation to train women on globally benchmarked skills for domestic workers, workers’ rights, and to organise them into trade unions, to improve their skills and knowledge and in turn, their employment prospects, wages and conditions.

 

“The initiative also includes the piloting a model contract between employer and employee and a grievance redressal system. So far 400 domestic workers have been trained and are now being helped by a placement officer, to find jobs in conditions of decent work”, explained Razi Mujtaba Haider, Programme Officer, ILO.

 

Mr. Tahir Manzoor, Director, Department of Labour and Gender Focal Person, Punjab, said the registration of the Union was an important step in recognising domestic workers and workers under law. “Now steps should be taken to establish minimum wages and expanding access to social security schemes.”

23 Jan 2015