Pakistan Needs to Move Towards Living Wage for Workers

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Pakistan Needs to Move Towards Living Wage for Workers
Karachi, Pakistan — Representatives of workers, employers and government on Thursday emphasized the need to adopt the living wage agenda instead of the current mechanism of minimum wages.

They were speaking at an international conference titled “Towards Realisation of Living Wage in Pakistan’s Garment Sector” jointly organized by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) in collaboration with its several partners at a local hotel.

This crucial event brought together a diverse range of stakeholders, including government officials, industry representatives, international buyers, civil society organizations, and domestic and international trade unions.

The conference aimed to create a platform for collective action towards achieving a living wage for garment workers in Pakistan.

The speakers pointed out that a staggering 90% of Pakistani workers live below the poverty line. Furthermore, real wages have declined by 30% in the past five years, from $120 USD to a meager $103 USD. Speakers warned that failing to address living wages could push workers towards sub-human conditions and societal instability. This highlights the ethical and economic imperative for a living wage.

Muhammad Tahseen, representing PILER’s Board, emphasized the importance of unionization in securing living wages and called for sectoral unity among textile workers. He stressed that a living wage is a fundamental right for workers and their families, going beyond just basic income. It should encompass the ability to afford necessities like education, healthcare, and shelter. Efforts should be made to facilitate unionization and encourage sectoral unity among textile workers, he added.

Ms. Muna Baig, Director of Global Rights Compliance, presented a project overview focusing on addressing labour rights violations in Pakistan’s garment sector. She discussed the use of innovative methods like community-based monitoring, paralegals, and brand coordination to identify and address violations. Muna Baig highlighted a concerning database of violations impacting over 300 factories and 200 brands. This data serves as a stark reminder of the widespread exploitation within the industry.

Continued efforts in community-based monitoring and brand coordination are crucial for holding companies accountable and ensuring ethical production practices, she said.

Nazar Ali, representing the Employers Federation of Pakistan, acknowledged the importance of workers’ rights for sustainable businesses. However, he expressed concerns about the country’s economic situation, including rising taxes and input costs (electricity, gas, petrol) which have led to business closures and unemployment.

The government and industry stakeholders need to work together to address these challenges and create a business environment that supports both worker well-being and industry sustainability, he remarked.

He suggested a staged approach, prioritizing full compliance with the current minimum wage before pursuing a living wage. This perspective highlights the need to find a balance between ensuring worker well-being and maintaining a competitive business environment.

Other speakers, including Zulfiqar Nizamani and Nasir Mansoor pointed out that most of industries are not implementing even minimum wages. They underlined the need for improving implementation mechanism of minimum wages for both skilled and unskilled workers.

The other speakers warned that failing to address living wages could push workers towards sub-human conditions and societal instability. This highlights the ethical and economic imperative for a living wage.

Additionally, speakers emphasized the need for Pakistan to comply with international regulations like the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD). This directive compels companies operating in the EU to ensure human rights and environmental compliance throughout their supply chains. Failure to comply with the CSDDD could lead to a gradual decline in Pakistan’s textile and garment sector exports. This underscores the importance of the living wage issue not just for domestic reasons, but also for Pakistan’s global trade standing.

The “Towards Realisation of Living Wage in Pakistan’s Garment Sector” conference served as a critical step towards achieving a more just future for the sector’s workforce. By bringing together various stakeholders and fostering dialogue, the event has paved the way for collective action.

A transparent and inclusive process is needed to determine a living wage benchmark that takes into account the basic needs of workers and their families in Pakistan’s current economic context. Once established, a roadmap for implementation needs to be developed, potentially involving phased increases towards the living wage target.

The conference marks a significant turning point in the fight for fairer treatment of garment workers. By fostering dialogue and collaboration between stakeholders, the event has laid the groundwork for collective action towards achieving a living wage. The road ahead presents challenges, but the momentum gained from the conference paves the way for a more
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