The effort to secure decent work in Pakistan’s brick kiln industry took a step forward in recent weeks when 18 women parliamentarians vowed to take up the issue in the Punjab Legislature. The move followed their participation in a discussion organized by the Solidarity Center for the Trade Union Female Forum (TUFF). TUFF, a program the Solidarity Center piloted to bring together female labor activists, comprises women union leaders and members of Pakistan Workers Federation and Muttahida Labor Federation.
The late February meeting centered on the proposed Decent Work Brick Kiln–Framework, which provides an inspection checklist to monitor work at kilns along with other comprehensive tools and resources for district labor departments that have not had the mechanisms to systematically inspect and report on labor law violations or the status of brick kiln compliance.
The Solidarity Center, together with allies in the country, developed the detailed framework as a roadmap for local labor departments to address bonded labor and unsafe working conditions. The program also includes incentives for employers to ensure their facilities meet decent work standards.
Meeting with the parliamentarians, some 30 women trade union leaders and 10 senior male leaders from the two federations highlighted the absence of labor inspections at brick kilns, the lack of formal contracts for brick kiln workers, non-payment of minimum wages to brick kiln workers and the prevalence of debt bondage and other worker exploitation.
The MPs and union leaders discussed options for ensuring decent working conditions for brick kiln workers, including:
- Increasing enforcement powers of labor inspectors in Punjab province, and adding women inspectors.
- Organizing extensive training for labor inspectors around the decent work framework.
- Ensuring transportation for labor inspections to verify compliance with the framework.
- Demanding the government procure bricks for infrastructure projects only from decent work compliance brick kilns.
The MPs also suggested organizing more dialogue and workshops to educate MPs on worker issues, especially when such meetings are centered on results-oriented solutions like DWBK framework.
The Punjab provincial government recently passed a regulation prohibiting child labor at brick kilns, which covers those under age 15. The Pakistan Senate also unanimously passed a bill last week that would give domestic workers protections on the job. While the domestic worker legislation needs to be passed by the full National Assembly and further passed by individual provinces, the action is a big step forward for the rights of domestic workers.