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Labour leaders caution against politicising workers welfare institutions

Trade unions and labour leaders have urged both the federal and Sindh governments to avoid politicising the EOBI and Workers Welfare Fund issues and to bring some massive reforms to the service delivery of these social security institutions for the universalisation of the social security services in Pakistan.

Speaking at an online consultation on ‘Future of workers welfare institutions like EOBI & WWF’ on Zoom platform, organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) here on Thursday, the labour leaders deplored that the social security institutions had failed to serve the majority of workers.

According to the Labour Force Survey 2017-18, there were 65.5 million labourers in the country, out of whom only 8.6 million workers were registered with the Employees Old-age Benefit Institution (EOBI), which was less than eight per cent, said Zulfiqar Shah, joint director of Piler.

Sharing statistics, Shah said the number of workers drawing pensions from the EOBI was still very low as the institution’s record indicated that only 652,000 persons were drawing pensions, which was just one per cent of labour force.

He said the situation of the provincial social security institutions was also not encouraging as a majority of workers were excluded from the facilities being offered by the institutions.

Senior economist Dr Kaiser Bengali pointed out that despite the fact that the EOBI remained at the federal level since its inception, its performance remained poor, and a large portion of the funds collected by the EOBI and other workers welfare schemes was spent on salaries and allowances of officers who ran the institutions. We have to look into these expenses as well to make them effective, he suggested.

According to Dr Bengali, only two per cent of the collected funds should be spent on establishment expenses of social security institutions.

Karamat Ali, Piler’s executive director, said that under Article 38 of the constitution every citizen should be provided social security facilities like health, education and residence.

Quoting a survey of 2001 on social security institutions, he said at that time only 900,000 workers were registered with the provincial institutions, which was three per cent of the total workforce.

The coverage of workers in 2020 had not increased from three percent, he said, adding: “We have to move towards universalisation of social security.”

There should have been an unemployment allowance in case of pandemics like Covid-19, he said, alleging that the social security institutions were totally corrupted and their attitude towards common people was of colonial style.

The delivery of services should be made better, and, for this purpose, powers should be devolved from the federation to the provinces and local governments, he suggested.

Nasir Mansoor of the National Trade Union Federation said that after 18th amendment in the constitution, the EOBI was not devolved to the province, and the then government gave more powers to the National Industrial Relations Council (NIRC), which had caused a decline in trade unions.

Qamarul Hassan of the International Union of Food Workers underlined the need to have a national level dialogue for the devolution of social security institutions.

Senior trade union leader Liaquat Sahi said the EOBI matter was complicated and technical, but it should not be politicised. The matter should be discussed at the Council of Common Interests (CCI), he suggested and said that after the passage of the 18th amendment, the Sindh government had made only laws but no serious measure had been taken to implement them.

Farhat Perveen, executive director of the NOW Communities, said the role of the provincial labour department should be strengthened.

Other labour leaders and civil society activists who also spoke on the occasion included Muhammad Yaqoob, Iqridar Naqvi, Zehra Khan, Zeenia Shaukat, Dr. Saba Gul Khattak, Mahnaz Rahman and Khan Zaman.

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