The speakers at a launching ceremony of a report on Sindh’s peasants rights here on Friday underlined the need for implementation of the key laws pertaining to rights of agriculture workers including Sindh Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 2015 and Sindh Tenancy Act 1950.
Addressing at the launch of “The State of Peasants’ Rights in Sindh 2020” organized by the Hari Welfare Association (HWA) at Karachi Press Club, the speakers expressed their concern over the plight of agriculture workers, who are facing social and economic exclusion, expulsion from the agriculture fields where they work and non-payment of their due by influential Zamindars.
“COVID-19 pandemic has further aggravated the rights situation of agriculture workers,” said Akram Ali Khaskheli, president of the HWA.
According to him, a majority of agriculture workers do not receive minimum wages fixed by the labour department of the Sindh provincial government.
Karamat Ali, Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) underlined the need for provision of rights to agriculture workers.
He urged the Supreme Court of Pakistan to start hearing of the review petition against land reforms verdict of a Shariat Bench of Supreme Court of Pakistan.
He also demanded to distribute all government lands to the landless peasants. He appreciated the recent statement of a Supreme Court of Pakistan Judge Justice Qazi Faiz Essa for distribution of agriculture land to the government employees.
Khizar Kazi, Vice Chairman of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said bonded labour situation in Sindh is alarming and cases are increasing. He pointed out that there is a need to form District Vigilence Committees in all 30 districts. These committees should be in urban areas, he added.
Ms. Zeenat Hisam, the research of the report said that the good thing in this report was that it has mentioned the names of big landlords who have kept their peasants in bond.
Abid Niaz Khan, a representative of International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Pakistan Office said that Convention No. 11 of ILO for right to association of agriculture workers was ratified then British government in India 1919. Pakistan inherited that Convention but no serious efforts were made. Sindh government has recently provided the right to association to agriculture workers under the Industrial Relations Act 2013.
Senior trade union leader and President of People’s Labour Bureau (PLB) Habibuddin Junaidi said that after 18th Amendment many labour laws have been made in Sindh. Implementation of laws is a matter of concern and for that a comprehensive struggle is required.
Chairperson of Sindh Commission of Status of Women Nuzhat Shireen said that the Commission has started holding a series of meeting with Hari women in Sindh to know their working conditions.
Nasir Mansoor, Secretary General of National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) said a general workers trade union of Haris and two trade unions of women peasant workers have been established in Sindh.
The year 2020 did not bring any positive legal and policy changes directly affecting peasants, he said adding that instead, the Government of Sindh (GoS) has filed a petition in the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) challenging the landmark October 2019 verdict by the Sindh High Court (SHC) in which the honorable court had struck down regressive amendments in the tenancy law and addressed measures against bonded labour in Sindh.
Although the filing of this petition was done in January 2020, the Agriculture Minister Sindh, Ismail Rahu, promised and confirmed that his government would not file an appeal in the SCP against this landmark, a pro-peasant decision 2019. However, the GoS continued to pursue the case in the SCP.
The report has highlighted the problems of agriculture workers.
The report also revealed that in 2020, 3086 bonded peasants, including 915 children and 1154 women, were released by the police on courts’ orders, according to reports in the media (data collected by the HWA).
From these 3086, a vast majority (1,436) were recovered from the illegal detention of landlords in Umerkot, a district marked by human development deficits in the form of under-five mortality, food insecurity, malnutrition, lack of health services, and poor quality of drinking water.
A significant number of bonded peasants and their family members were also released from Mirpurkhas (497), Sanghar (514), Matiari (234), and Badin (133) districts.
The report also highlighted that in eight years, from 2013 to 2020, 8725 bonded peasants were released. Of these, 2923 (33.5 percent) were women.
In 2020, in the release of these 3086 peasants, there was no single case in which the DVCs (in the districts in which DVCs have been constituted) played any role. In 2020, the GoS did not take any step to rehabilitate thousands of families living in many hari camps in Sindh.
The report also underlined that out of 29 districts of Sindh, by 2020, only 12 District Vigilance Committees were made up after letters by the Secretary Labour Department (Sindh) and the repeatedly request letters by the HWA for the constitution and activation of the DVC under section 15 of the Sindh Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 2015.
Under the law, the district authorities must set up DVCs, comprising elected authorities and representatives of the district administration, bar association, media, social services, and labor departments.
The speakers at the ceremony urged the GoS, the district authorities, and the district and session judges to play their part in implementing the SWAWA, the STA, and the SBLSAA and activation of the DVCs so that menace of bonded labor could be eradicated in agriculture and other sectors of the economy.
After the launching event, peasants also held a demonstration outside Karachi Press Club.