Karachi, May 25, 2012 (PPI-OT): Speakers at a seminar called for increased allocation and access to social security demanding a universal social protection regime in the wake of growing poverty and rising inequalities. Pakistan would continue to pay the price of mass poverty in the form of violence and terrorism if the divide between the haves and the have nots is bridged by way of the constitutional right of the public to access all fundamental components of social protection i.e. income to sustain above the poverty level and a standard level of healthcare, education, housing and a decent life.
They regretted that majority of the labour force of Pakistan is working in informal sectors of the economy, where they are paid less and do not have access to the available social security facilities offered by government.
The experts were speaking at a seminar on “The Cost of Exclusion: Case for Universal Social Protection” organised by Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) at a local hotel on Thursday.
Sindh Minister for Labour Ameer Nawab Khan was the chief guest on the occasion. General Secretary of Pakistan People’s Party, Sindh Taj Haider; Dr. Jan Breman, a professor for the Netherland; senior economist Haris Gazdar; Dr. Tipu Sultan, Central President of Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) and Dr. Aly Ercelan of PILER were the main speakers. Trade union leaders, members of other civil society organizations and representatives of employers attended the seminar.
Ameer Nawab Khan said that when he took over the charge as Labour Minister in 2008, only 375,000 workers were registered with Sindh Employees Social Security Institution (SESSI) till that year. He asked the department officers to increase that registration and now 628,000 workers are registered with SESSI and the number is increasing gradually.
He said the government has also reduced the percentage of contribution of the employers from 7 to 6 percent. The government is paying full contribution for women, disabled and under 14 years workers.
He said the Labour ministry, in consultation with representatives of employers and employees have finalized a consensus draft bill for Industrial Relations Act in Sindh and now it is before the provincial assembly to approve it.
In his key note address, Prof. Jan Breman said during his visit to rural areas of Sindh and Punjab he has witnessed wide spread poverty, especially among working people. He said democracy is not meant only holding free elections, but democracy should also be freedom from hatred, freedom from intolerance, willingness to live together and share resources. “I spoke to power loom workers in Punjab and Haris (peasants) in Sindh, they all feel excluded. If I am correct that for many segments of the population in Pakistan democracy does not exist.”
Prof. Breman said he has been meeting with bonded Haris in Sindh for the last 25 years, but their living condition has not been changed. The conditions of the power loom workers in Faisalabad is also a cause of concern, where children are working because they need to support their pauper families and old age people are working for 16 hours on looms because their married children are unable to support older parents. In Pakistan the state does not care its citizens, which is the main cause of the social unrest and worsening law and order in the country.
In India, he pointed out, the coalition government has introduced a job guarantee scheme for all the rural workers. It provides a legal guarantee for one hundred days of the employment in every financial year to adult members of any rural household willing to do public work related unskilled manual work at the minimum wage rate.
He said that in India 94 percent of the total workforce is associated with informal sector. The situation is almost the same in Pakistan and the government should revise its current estimates of labour force which indicate that 74 percent of Pakistani workforce is associated with informal sector.
Dr. Breman said Gujrat is the fastest growing state in India, but implementation of the society security schemes is very miserable in this state. “Economic growth does not sure decent lives of the workers,” he remarked.
Speaking on the occasion Taj Haider, General Secretary of Pakistan Peoples Party, Sindh said trade union’s conditions in 1960s was much better than these days. He said the main issue being faced by the workers is their exploitation. The Shariat Court’s decision is blocking land reforms in Pakistan.
He deplored the existence of wide spread corruption in the social security institutions in Pakistan. He said the present government has taken a number of measures for the workers’ welfare. During its 4 year tenure, the PPP government has almost doubled the budget on health and education. He pointed out that taxes worth Rs. 1.8 trillion are evaded in the country, mainly by the corporate sector. He said the government is in the state of war and most of the resources are going in maintenance in law and order.
Senior economist Haris Gazdar spelt out the history of social protection in the world. He said it is the duty of the state to provide each citizen equal opportunities.
Dr. Tipu Sultan, Central President of Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) said health is the basic right, but meagre budget is allocated for health. Corruption is rampant in the health sector. Out of Rs 100 a patient receives only 15 paisa. In Pakistan, he pointed out that only 37 percent children receive vaccination. Maternal mortality rate is quite high at 450 out of 100,000, which is 350/100,000 in India, 17 in Sri Lanka. Infant mortality rate in Pakistan is 85 out of 100,000, which is alarming.
More than 2 percent of total population in the country is blind. Over 140,000 doctors are registered with PMDC, half of them have left abroad for better prospects. Total 124 medical colleges are producing 16,000 doctors every year, majority of them leave the country.
Dr. Tipu Sulatan said there are five kinds of hospital in Pakistan: The government hospitals, social security hospitals (with a surplus budget and less facilities), charitable hospitals (run on donations), free hospitals (run on zakat and khairat and silent philanthropy) and private hospital (in a large number). The
Majyd Aziz, former President of Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Karachi said the state is abdicating its role in social security. In Pakistan ambulance service is run by the civil society. He said community based organizations are running hospitals in an efficient manner.
Hanif Baloch, DG Operations, Employees Oldage Benefit Institution (EOBI) said about 4.8 million workers are registered with EOBI. Women at the age of 55 years and men at the age of 60 year can get a pension from EOBI if they are registered and their contribution is paid. Presently more than 400,000 pensioners are receiving month pension from Rs. 3600 to 5800 per month. Recently Prime Minister has announced an increase of 20 percent increase in the pension.
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