Hari Welfare Association, an NGO dedicated on rights of peasants in Sindh and other labour organisations have expressed grave concern on likely increase of incidences of bonded labour due to COVID-19 related economic and social measures and demanded the government of Sindh to immediately establish District Vigilance Committees in all the 30 Districts of the provinces as required under the Sindh Bonded Labour System Abolition Act of 2015.
This demand was made at a Press Conference addressed by Akram Ali Khaskheli, President of Hari Welfare Association at a press conference at Karachi Press Club on Tuesday.
Flanked by other labour leaders including Karamat Ali, Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Educarion and Research (PILER); Habibuddin Junaidi, President Peoples Labour Bureau, Sindh; Khizer Qazi, Vice Chairman of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; Nasir Mansoor, General Secretary of National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) and others, Khaskheli said that the Act provides a basic system of implementing the law through constituting the District Vigilance Committees (DVCs) in each district of the province.
However, despite the passage of five years to the law, these committees have not been established.
In Sindh, the notification for the formation of 12 DVCs have been issued, but even those DVCs are not functional yet.
For the remaining districts, the DVCs have to be constituted and activated, added Khaskheli.
Karamat Ali of PILER said Sindh Tenancy Act is not implemented and Haris are deprived of their rights. Haris are living in miserable conditions.
The Sindh government should take up the issue of agriculture workers.Khaskheli added that he had a meeting with the Secretary of provincial Labour Department Rasheed Solangi, yesterday on the formation and activation of the DVCs in each district of Sindh.
The Secretary had promised to implement the law and constitute and activate DVCs in the districts at the earliest.
The Secretary informed us that under the Section 15(1) the Deputy Commissioners have to notify the DVCs in each district and DC is heading those committees and hold meetings.
The Labour Department has written letters to each DC to notify the DVCs and hold regular meetings in their respective districts, Khaskheli said.
Letters have already been sent to the Chief Secretary and other concerned officers for compliance, the Labour Secretary informed.
An orientation session on Bonded Labour law would be held for Directors and Labour Officer from every district next week, he said.He added that this is quite positive news; however, the Secretary has to play a proactive role to implement the law and rescue millions of bonded labourers suffering in agriculture, brick kiln and other sectors of the economy.
Khaskheli said that as per the law, the DVCs advise the District Administration on matters relating to the effective implementation of the Bonded Labour and other relevant laws to ensure its implementation accurately, to help in the rehabilitation of the freed bonded labourer; to keep an eye on the working of the law; to provide the bonded labourers such assistance as may be necessary to achieve the objectives of the law.
He said that due to absence or non-activation of the DVCs the monitoring of the law through the DVCs is affected thus the numbers of bonded labourers are increasing in rural areas of Sindh, which is reflected through the annual statistics on the release of bonded labourers from the captivity of the landlords.
He added that in 2017, 553, in 2018, 1421 and in 2019, 1722 bonded labourers got freedom from the captivity of the landlords in Sindh with the help of the courts.
Other labour leaders while endorsing the demand of the HWA said the COVID crisis has impacted negatively on workers particularly in informal economy and agriculture sector where protection is minimal. It is important that official mechanisms such as DVCs are established and activities at the earliest.
They demanded that all labour laws should be extended to the agriculture sector and social security be made universal so that all workers including rural and agriculture workers benefit from it.
They also demanded time bound action plan to eradicate the menace of bonded labour from the province and an easy way to do so is to introduce much awaited land reforms.