Our work with the Labour Quomi Movement

Brick kiln and power loom industries contribute hugely to Pakistan’s GDP, yet their workers are oppressed and exploited the most in the     country. Labour laws and labour rights are grossly violated. Child labour and bonded labour is prevalent in most places. More than 90% of the kilns workers are paid less than the minimum wage rate. Workers are not allowed to form unions and if they try, they are harassed and threatened. This state of affairs exists; despite passage of many laws, and repeated warnings from the judiciary.The Labour Quomi Movement (LQM) is a workers organization committed to improving conditions of workers informal sectors that have not been unionized traditionally.
Much like Pattan, LQM has a strong self help ethos. It maintains its independence by depending on membership fees alone. Pattan has been assisting this movement through support and guidance. It has been informing them on the strategies available to them for political action and pressure. Together, they have been able to successfully mobilize workers and push for the implementation of the minimum wage. The focus has been on constructive engagement. Pattan has been supporting LQM in “tanzeem sazi”. A basic training on where to go for each relevant issue was given, for example, the labour department for minimum wage advocacy.
They also used strategies like long marches, protests and dharnas to fight for their rights.
The struggle isn’t easy. The law making and enforcement institutions tend to represent the interests of the elite rather than the workers. There have been several instances of fake cases filed against these workers.
Bhatta Mazdor Tehreek Punjab, an initiative of PATTAN and LQM, launched a campaign for labour rights in power looms and kilns in 2003. Due to LQM pressure, the situation of workers and labourers has improved significantly. However, in districts where unions are weak, the plight of workers is still terrible as the labour department is under no pressure to implement labour laws.The working conditions in the brick kiln sector of Pakistan are amongst the worst forms of work with pervasive forced labour. This is despite the fact that Pakistan is signatory to the Universal Human Rights Charter. Being a member of the International Labour Organisation, it is adhered to the ILO’s Chief instrument of the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and has ratified all 8 core ILO Conventions; two of them (#29 and 105) directly concerned with the eradication of forced labour. The national Constitution (Article 11), laws (Bonded Labour Systems Abolishment Act-1992), policies (National Plan of Action for Elimination of Bonded Labour) and the Supreme Court Judgement (1991) exist to prohibit and abolish the bondage conditions in brick kiln work places and implement ‘decent’ working conditions for bonded labour.
The lack of effective implementation of these policies, however, delivered short on aspirations and promises enshrined in national and international laws and convents for the eradication and prevention of forced labour and safeguarding the workers rights. The workers and their families face gravest violations of their rights and statutory entitlements. Due to the persistent struggle of LQM and Pattan, there has grown now a considerable attention on the plight of brick kiln workers, especially with regard to bondage conditions, payment of statutory wages, payment of social security contributions, discrimination and harassment, underage labour, safety and health conditions as well as coerce restrictions to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
With the support of Pattan, LQM has been working on advocating through a Rights based approach on issues pertaining to Minimum wage, EOBI card, social security, and health and safety of the workers. Further LQM collectively pools money for its efforts; especially for fighting against fake cases; 37 families have been acquitted in past 2 years.
The challenge remains in getting these workers in the informal sector to collectivize. Once they are organized, their demands are heard!
Pattan publications on LQM’s work:
Beyond Bondage
Bricked by Brick