The formal and informal sector of the skilled labor force continues to grow in Pakistan. Previously, it helped the unemployment rate slightly decrease from 6.9 percent in 2018- 19 to 6.3 percent in 2020-21. During this period, the labor force of the country increased from 65.5 million in 2017-18 to 71.76 million in 2020-21. Reportedly, more than 6.5 million skilled workers joined the labor force of the country in 2022.
Hence, it is evident that the sector of skilled labor workforce is booming in the country. It is playing a major role in generating income for the state, helping the economy to thrive. However, the question is whether the state is taking sustainable measures for the safety of its labor workforce.
Is The Labor Force Safe?
One of the key areas of work deficit in Pakistan is poor occupational safety and health (OSH) at the workplace. Most of the enterprises in the organized sectors of Pakistan are not aware of occupational safety hazards and risks, resulting in a threat to the life of the labor force in both the formal and informal sectors. Furthermore, there is also a lack of awareness and education among the laborers due to which they struggle to realize the importance and urgency of addressing those risks and hazards for the safeguard of their life.
Labor Force Laws & Pakistan
The International Labor Organization defines Occupational Safety and Health as a discipline that encompasses all characteristic points of safety and health at the workplace. It intends to prevent occupational hazards. Chapter 3 of the Factories Act, 1934 in Chapter 3 of the Factories Act, 1934. Currently, these regulations are partly being followed in all provinces of Pakistan. The rules are linked with some hazardous occupations operating on cellulose solution spraying, petrol gas generating plants, sandblasting, aerated waters, etc. Other laws associated with occupational safety and health which are implemented in Pakistan include:
- Dock Labourer Act 1934
- Social Security Ordinance 1965
- Workmen’s Compensation Act 1923 Shop and
- Establishment Ordinance 1969
- The Mines Act of 1923
The Problem With Pakistan’s Labor Force Laws
The labor laws currently implemented in Pakistan are outdated and do not follow occupational exposure needs. It is unfortunate that Pakistan lacks an autonomous regulatory body to address the occupational health and safety problems in Pakistan.
An independent study conducted in 2010 demonstrated that the following year, 2284 people sustained injuries and 295 people lost their lives in Punjab due to occupational health and safety negligence. Similarly, 258 laborers were burnt to death in Baldia Factory in Karachi, Sindh when a fire erupted due to an electrical short-circuit. When the factory workers tried to escape, the only exit was sealed shut, leaving no way out for them.
What’s worst is that most of these occupational health and safety accidents happening at the workplace remain unreported. It happens to protect the reputation of the certain workplace, thereby disintegrating the sense of accountability in the corporates and worsening the situation for the labor force.
For a country that is heavily dependent on its labor force for revenue generation, the loss of lives in occupational safety hazards is despicable. The problem with Pakistan’s labor laws is that they are focused on technical standards only and do not take occupational exposure limits into consideration. Hence, there is an immediate need to update the old labor laws and introduce new laws which would provide a secure and safe environment to the workforce at the workplace.