December 17, 2014
KARACHI: The government should provide legal cover to the working of women cotton pickers through fixing appropriate wages and resolving issues and problems faced by them.
Speakers at a provincial dialogue moot on ‘cotton pickers’ legal and policy perspectives’ organised by Sindh Community Foundation, said Pakistan’s economy was based on agriculture. Pakistan stands at 4th position among top ten leading cotton producing countries after China, India and the Unites States.
It has been estimated that women account for more than 24 percent in cotton areas’ workforce. But the labour engaged in cotton picking is undergoing worst situation due to low wages and poor working conditions Cotton is one of the major cash crops of Sindh and Punjab. Sanghar, Ghotki, Khairpur, Umerkot, Matiari and other cities in Sindh besides Rahimyar Khan, Vehari, Multan, Bahawalpur, Sahiwal, Bahawalnagar, Lodhran and other cities in Punjab are the major cotton producing districts. More than 600,000 women cotton pickers are engaged in these districts.
The moot discussed the European Union’s (EU’s) grant of GSP Plus status to Pakistan allowing Pakistani products a duty free access to the European market. It deplored the fact that no regulatory body had been formed to ensure non-exploitation of the workforce in the textile and agriculture sector.
The GSP Plus status has allowed almost 20 percent of Pakistani exports to enter the EU market at zero tariff and 70 percent at preferential rates for four years till 2017. Only the textile industry would earn profits of more than Rs 1 trillion per year, speakers said. Agriculture and textile are key sectors of the economy. But the government did not have any labour protection laws and monitoring mechanisms to safeguard workers’ rights in textile and agriculture under GPS, they added.
Researcher Haris Gazadr said rural workers in agriculture sector were experiencing miserable condition in rural Sindh. He pointed out mostly non-Muslim women were involved in cotton picking receiving less income in due seasons. There is need to help improve the living conditions of labour involved in cotton picking as they have very low nutrition status and limited access to livelihood. There is need to ensure their health safety, he added.
Mahnaz Rhaman of Aurat Foundation said, “Economic reforms make society more vibrant and empowered. Women are being discriminated through various laws and poor democratic system in country”. Javed Hussain of Sindh Community Foundation was of the view that the government had taken no initiative to safeguard the interests of women cotton pickers and was only interested in picking clean cotton. It should come forward to protect the rights of cotton pickers.
Zeenia Shokat of Pakistan Institute of Labour and Research said this section of labour was not recognised as formal labour so it was being denied different social security benefits under Labour Act. Due to lack of confidence and literacy, the wages are not proper as accounts keeping mechanism of the growers is very vague and distorted. Tofiq Ahemd of Labour Department said the government was trying to improve the working conditions of labour through legislation; non-governmental organizations could help labourers to exercise their rights under Industrial Relation Act.
Punhal Saryo of Sindh Hari Porhyat Council said landlessness was one of the reasons of marginalisation of rural agriculture workers. He demanded to start the third phase of land distribution among women and it should be focussed on landless women working in cotton sector. Shahnaz Sheedi of SAP-PK said because of poor wage fixed by the landlords and local markets their economic conditions had not improved. Health insurances programme should be placed by the government to protect women cotton pickers from allergies and other skin diseases and in case of snake biting they be provided access to health services.
Women cotton picker Padmi said, “We work hard but get less amount as wages ie Rs 300. We cannot take nutritious food as the inflation is increasing.”- She demanded health and other safety benefits for women cotton pickers. Razaq Umrani of HANDS also spoke on the occasion.
Courtesy Daily Time –
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