In Pakistan, recent gains in union membership and expansion of worker support services reflect Solidarity Center efforts to promote worker rights through programs and training that address union strengthening, legal and technical education, gender equality and communications outreach.
Between 2010-2016, membership in Pakistan unions with which the Solidarity Center engaged increased from 134,801 to 146,724, and through improved financial management, unions gained resources and bargaining power to initiate social services such as medical assistance for accidents, legal support and marriage grants, and negotiate higher wages and improved benefits.
Key to these advances are Solidarity Center trainings enabling unions to maximize their resources. Improving financial stewardship strengthens the broader Pakistani labor movement and expands the range of unions’ options for achieving workers’ rights in Pakistan.
More Union Resources = Wins for Workers
Some 88 unions participated in the training sessions, and subsequent reforms led to $400,000 in increased funding, a resource that will further expand. The additional resources have enabled unions in Pakistan to undertake a range of projects, including building a state of the art medical burn center in Peshawar to serve members who work at the Water and Power Development Authority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The burn center, which is in the planning stage, will also further enhance the union’s financial management by reducing health coverage costs the union incurs when injured workers seek care at distant hospitals. The union also aims to construct a research and residential training institute for workers in Peshawar with ongoing occupational safety and health training.
At the Capital Development Authority in Islamabad, additional financial resources enabled the employees’ union to wage a successful campaign to shift 5,400 contract staff to permanent positions. Most of the contracted-out workers had served the organization for years but their temporary status meant they did not receive the same wages and benefits as full-time employees.
Nighat Rafaq, Solidarity Center manager for Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting in Pakistan. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tula Connell
Through its additional resources, the Oil & Gas Development Corporation Limited Employees Union successfully delayed the government’s efforts to meet International Monetary Fund priorities by privatizing the oil and gas industry.
“The Solidarity Center feels proud and privileged to have had the opportunity to deeply engage with unions and built the institutional capacity of a few labor unions that, in turn, instituted dues reforms and benefitted their workers by enhanced and improved services at the plant level,” says Nighat Immad, Solidarity Center manager for Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting in Pakistan.
“There is a need for resources to flow up the structures enabling respective labor federations to play their due role at national and international level,” she says.
Cutting-Edge Training on Combatting Gender Inequality at Work
Although 1.8 million workers belong to 945 trade unions in the country, according to an independent research conducted by a group of national and international researchers, those figures translate to roughly three percent of workers in Pakistan represented by unions. Half of the 61 million workers in Pakistan toil in the agricultural sector, and so are not covered by the country’s labor laws.
Recent changes in the country’s governance structure have devolved more legal authority to its provinces, and Pakistan’s unions, with support from the Solidarity Center and other labor organizations, have contributed to passage of the Federal Industrial Relations Act and other measures to improve working conditions.
Solidarity Center staff in Pakistan also conducts cutting-edge training on combating gender inequality in the workplace, and helped spearhead the Trade Union Female Forum (TUFF), an empowerment and training network for women. Plans to expand TUFF to media workers are part of the Solidarity Center’s media workers and journalist union-focused training that addresses safety, gender equality, legislation and legal aid.
In Pakistan, journalists often don’t see themselves as workers, and so do not advocate for their rights, says Immad Ashraf, acting country program director for the Solidarity Center in Pakistan. “Usually you only find blue-collar workers who recognize themselves as being the labor force, and that is exploited by the employers.”
Along with training and education awareness, Solidarity Center in Pakistan communicates with union members and the broader public through Labor Watch Pakistan, which covers such worker rights issues as child labor, minimum wages and gender discrimination through news stories, videos and sections on labor law and international labor standards.
More than 168 million children labor around the world, most denied an education and condemned to a cycle of poverty. The sheer number of child laborers underscores the need for reform in the many industries that employ child labor.
Reducing and eliminating child labor requires a focus on decent work for adults. Credit: Solidarity Center/Sonia Mistry
Reducing and eliminating child labor requires a focus on decent work for adults. In industries that regularly exploit workers—including not only brick kilns but also garment factories and palm oil plantations—improving wages and reducing daily production quotas make it easier for workers to provide for their families and enroll their children in schools. Trade unions and collective bargaining have helped workers around the world achieve these kinds of reforms.
In many South Asian countries, thousands of children labor in brick kilns under hazardous conditions. Child laborers, who are rarely given proper safety equipment, are particularly vulnerable to serious burns, cuts and other injuries while shaping bricks from wet clay, facing the searing heat from a kiln’s open fire and carrying stacks of finished bricks on their heads.
Entire families sometimes become bonded after borrowing money from someone such as a brick kiln owner. They then work to repay the loan but often are unable to pay off their debt, even over many years, because their wages are so low. The children and adult workers often cannot even leave the kiln and find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of debt. Children forced to work are unable to attend school, which severely limits their opportunities later in life.
Better Brick Nepal Tackles Roots of Child Labor
In Nepal, where more than 2 million children age 14 and younger are at work, the Global Fairness Initiative (GFI)’s program Better Brick Nepal (BBN) is helping to reduce child labor and improve working conditions in brick kilns. In a recent roundtable presentation at Humanity United in Washington, D.C., BBN leaders, joined by representatives from several international worker rights organizations, explained how their work brings together a variety of stakeholders from throughout the brick industry.
BBN, which gets input from labor unions, and its many partners, are using economic incentives to reduce brick kilns’ reliance on child labor. BBN instructs brick kiln owners on best practices for protecting worker rights and offers technical assistance in exchange. As employers improve safety and cut bonded labor and child labor out of the equation, BBN helps them update their facilities and boost their productivity.
Market-based incentives are also key to the Solidarity Center’s Decent Work Brick Kiln-Framework in Pakistan, where we joined with allies in the country to develop an economic incentive-based model in which brick kiln employers ensure their facilities meet decent work standards.
“Changing the Narrative” of Safety Inspections
BBN’s reach in Nepal has had a “huge expansion,” says GFI’s Nepal Country Director Homraj Acharya, from five brick kilns to 40 in just three years, and with many more kilns on a “wait list.”
Acharya estimates that BBN has reached more than 1,300 children laboring in brick kilns, providing them with the opportunity to attend school and escape “generations of marginalization.”
BBN works in close partnership with many international organizations, including Goodweave International and Humanity United.
Acharya believes the devastating earthquake in 2015 played a major role in increasing BBN’s influence. Not only did rebuilding efforts provide incentives for brick kilns to increase their productivity through BBN’s program, he says, but the collective humanitarian experience inspired people to demand reform and embrace socially responsible industry.
As Solidarity Center Senior Program Officer Sonia Mistry writes, development and aid efforts to reconstruct Nepal should “support the rebuilding of Nepali communities by addressing the root causes of the exploitative labor migration cycle.
“This means creating decent jobs at home, and paying workers a living wage under safe conditions to rebuild their villages and their cities. Reconstruction contracts should go to companies that meet a high bar for labor standards—and comply with the International Labor Organization’s core conventions, including the right to form unions.”
“We are changing the narrative,” says Acharya. “Originally brick kilns didn’t want to see [inspectors]. Now they are saying, ‘We are willing to change and contribute to society.’”
Gender-based violence at the workplace takes many forms—and for journalists, such abuse can mean sexual harassment at the office or assault in the field where they report stories.
In Pakistan, journalists and media professionals are learning how to prevent and address gender-based violence as part of Solidarity Center-sponsored trainings designed to assist media professionals in achieving gender equality at the workplace and in the stories they report.
“Journalists in Khyber Pakhtunkwa (in northwest Pakistan) are facing a lot of problems and specially female journalists face many issues in the field as well as in their offices,” says Samina Naz, a workshop participant and reporter at Radio Pakistan.
Harassment at the Workplace: Physical and Online
Launched in October, the ongoing Gender Equity and Physical Safety series has involved dozens of journalists and media professionals, many of whom are members of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) or the All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation (APNEC). Participants learn about the range of issues involved in gender equality, identify priority gender equality issues at their workplaces and in their unions, and outline strategies for addressing the issues.
Journalists engaged in role play during gender quality training. Credit: Solidarity Center/Immad Ashraf
Workshops are filling a critical void. Some 35 percent of female journalists said they had experienced workplace-related intimidation, threats or abuse, according to a Solidarity Center-Civic Action Resources survey conducted before the trainings among 214 women journalists. More than one-quarter of women journalists (27 percent) said they had been targeted by a digital security threat. Yet only 8 percent of female journalists said they had received training for physical security and 5 percent for digital security. (The Solidarity Center and the Pakistan-based Journalists for Democracy and Human Rights also are holding workshops for journalists focusing solely on physical safety and digital security.)
Women are particularly at risk in Pakistan, where domestic abuse, economic discrimination and acid attacks make Pakistan one of the world’s most dangerous countries for women. Further, at least 70 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 2002, 14 of whom were murdered in 2014, leading the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to name Pakistan as the most dangerous country for journalists.
The Solidarity Center is among many unions and other civil society organizations worldwide calling for the International Labor Organization to establish a standard covering gender-based violence at the workplace, an action that moved forward last fall when the ILO announced that a debate for the convention will be on its 2018 agenda.
Women Journalists Paid Less, Lack Job Security
Although the number of women in journalism has grown along with the explosion of media professionals since 2002, when Pakistan legalized private media ownership, they are far more likely than men to experience job precariousness and harassment on the job, and generally are paid less than men for performing the same job.
Participants mark completion of the Solidarity Center’s first gender equality training in October. Credit: Solidarity Center/Immad Ashraf
Some 39 percent of women journalists surveyed said they are working without a contract, making it far more difficult for them to seek redress for job-related issues like pay discrimination. Further, more than one third said they were paid less than their male counterparts, and 80 percent said they were not paid for working overtime.
Promoting the work and advancing the role of women in the news media across the globe is critical to transparency and the diversity of voices, and workshop participants plan to expand upon what they learned in part by training other workers, assisted with a train-the-trainer manual the Solidarity Center developed with IFJ. In a post-training survey, all participants also indicated they would ask for a gender policy at work, and a mechanism to address sexual harassment.
“Me and my affiliates have learned a lot from this training and will try to replicate the contents to the best of our knowledge and abilities,” said Syed Ikram Bukhari, APNEC secretary general who works at Group Editor Daily Janch.
As International Women’s Day spotlights “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” to build momentum for the effective implementation of the United Nations’s new Sustainable Development Goals, Pakistan journalists already are stepping it up for gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights.
In Pakistan, where many workers and their children toil in dangerous brick kilns, the Solidarity Center, together with allies in the country, has developed a detailed roadmap for local labor departments to address bonded labor and unsafe working conditions—a program that includes incentives for employers to ensure their facilities meet decent work standards.
The Decent Work Brick Kiln–Framework (described in an Urdu-language video) provides an inspection checklist to monitor decent work at a kiln along with other comprehensive tools and resources for district labor departments, which have not had the mechanisms to systematically inspect and report on labor law violations or the status of brick kiln compliance.
The framework also proposes an incentive-based model in which brick kiln employers would receive 5 percent above the market price for government-procured bricks. The price incentive will enable employers, who currently have no incentive to change long-held practices, to absorb the cost of social protection and enable them to earn extra profits for ensuring decent work environment.
Pakistan is part of the International Labor Organization (ILO)’s Decent Work Country Program, and its agreement with the ILO includes addressing bonded labor in the brick kiln industry. In Pakistan and in other South Asian nations, entire families sometimes become bonded after borrowing money from someone like a brick kiln owner. They then work to repay the loan but often are unable to pay off their debt, even over many years, because their wages are so low.
In addition, the European Union in 2013 granted Pakistan Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus status, allowing its products duty-free access to European markets as long as it takes affirmative action in implementing 27 international worker and human rights conventions.
Yet despite the need to comply with the Decent Work mandate and GSP Plus requirements, the Decent Work Brick Kiln–Framework is the first plan to help guide brick kiln employers and district labor administrators in ensuring that bricks are manufactured in decent working conditions.
The Solidarity Center recommends that in adopting and operationalizing the program, the government initiate a two-step certification process. Government labor inspectors would first inspect and categorize kilns and submit findings to district committees, comprised of district administrators, kiln owners and nongovernmental organizations. After reviewing the findings, the committee would either certify a kiln or order the district labor department to reassess it.
“The Solidarity Center’s proposed decent work brick kiln framework offers a win-win solution for all three social partners,” says Solidarity Center Asia Region Director Tim Ryan.
“Workers will have decent working and living conditions; employers will get guaranteed business, and may receive a higher price for their products.”
The recent murders of three Pakistani journalists in separate incidents highlight the dangers media professionals in that country face daily on the job. And like workers in all industries, reporters, photographers and other media staff need tools to effectively address safety and health issues at work and ensure their fundamental human rights.
Pakistan journalists say they have not been trained in basic physical and online security techniques. Credit: Immad Ashraf
Following the launch of a recent series of Solidarity Center workshops that covered safety as well as gender equality, more than 60 journalists from around 15 local unions in Pakistan came away with the resources and information they need to better protect themselves against physical danger, online threats and gender discrimination and harassment.
“Journalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (in northwest Pakistan) are facing a lot of problems, especially female journalists, who face many issues in the field as well as in their offices,” says Samina Naz, a reporter for Radio Pakistan. “This training has broadened and clarified the concept of safety for me. Now I am more careful about my safety when I go to cover any story.”
Naz, who plans to share the techniques she learned with her colleagues, took part in the two-day training, Gender Equity & Physical Safety. The October workshop was the first in a series planned by the Solidarity Center in conjunction with the Pakistan-based Journalists for Democracy and Human Rights (JDHR) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
‘We’re Also Workers. What about Our Rights?
A second workshop in October covered physical safety and digital security. Dara Zafar, vice chairman of the All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation-Karachi chapter and a layout assistant at The News International, took part and says he intends to “be more cautious about his physical safety and digital security” and noted he had previously received no training on security issues.
In fact, nearly all participants surveyed prior to the trainings said their organizations do not provide security assessment or analysis. Further, they said neither they nor their organizations had made safety plans for reporting in the field or working online.
Nighat Rafaq, Solidarity Center monitoring, evaluation and reporting manager for Pakistan, says the Solidarity Center developed a two-year training and development program after journalists asked: “We’re also workers. What about our rights? Who will talk about our rights?
“Previously, there were a lot of opportunities for journalists, but on their professional side—for example, improving reporting skills—but not on their rights as workers,” she says.
In 2002, Pakistan legalized private media ownership, which previously had been state owned. The action sparked a surge of electronic and print news outlets, and the number of journalists in Pakistan increased from 2,000 to more than 18,000 today, while the number of other media industry workers skyrocketed from 7,000 to more than 300,000.
“The rapid growth in the industry has been accompanied by a decrease in respect for journalists’ basic labor rights, including fair wages, decent employment conditions, trade union rights and physical safety on the job,” says Immad Ashraf, Solidarity Center program manager in Pakistan.
At least 70 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 2002, 14 of whom were murdered last year, leading the International Federation of Journalists to name Pakistan as the most dangerous country for journalists.
Safety Trainings Set for Hundreds More Media Workers
Following the workshops, participants report being able to develop a safety plan and utilize survival tips when working in difficult environments. Nearly 80 percent say they now will be able to conduct security assessments and analyze a potentially dangerous situation for themselves and their colleagues before jumping into an assignment, and 86 percent report increased knowledge about their digital security-related vulnerabilities.
The Solidarity Center worked with the IFJ to develop a train-the-trainer manual for participants, so journalists can share tactics and knowledge with their colleagues. Similarly, another manual on gender equity and physical safety for women journalists and media workers also has been developed. The Solidarity Center will hold dozens more trainings in coming months, including workshops on paralegal education for 120 journalists and union leaders, and 14 two-day follow-up trainings for at least 340 journalists and other media workers.
Along with its allies, the Solidarity Center also will convene five one-day dialogue sessions for 250 representatives of journalists’ and media workers’ unions, media organizations and government agencies to discuss improving laws and policies on working conditions in the media sector. Another goal is to establish a legal fund to support individual and collective legal cases with potential to impact worker rights, working conditions and the physical security of journalists and media workers.
In Pakistan, where journalists often report on human rights issues, media professionals now have the opportunity to focus on their own human rights as workers. Siddiq Anzar, chairman of the Islamabad & Rawalpindi chapter of All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation and president of Islam Press and Workers Union, put it this way:
“After the training and having been exposed to the content and techniques, I now feel empowered.”