International Workers Day and Labour Conditions in Pakistan


Federation of organized trades and union declared May 1 1886 as the day from where eight-hour work day would be implemented. Workers and unions around USA actively supported the demand and demonstrated in all major industrial cities. On May 4 an incident took place at Hey Market in Chicago in which several police officers and civilians died. This event is said to be the major reason behind commemoration of May 1st as the International Workers Day, however the significance lies in the events started after declaration mentioned above and the struggle by unions and workers which followed as a result and spread to Europe as well. May Day has been celebrated as a tribute to struggle of working classes, trade unions and their achievements to improve condition of labour. In Pakistan, this day is an official holiday.

It would be worthwhile on this day to review current state of affairs and miserable conditions which labour force in Pakistan faces and acknowledge the remarkable strength and sacrifices workers in Pakistan put forward to contribute in production and support themselves and their families despite all odds such as unsuitable working conditions, low wages and ineffective labour laws.  What is really required is effort to create an effective work force which is healthy and educated with necessities of life at its disposal, but that is a wishful thinking in the circumstances. Pakistan is a signatory of all important ILO (International Labour Organization) conventions and accepts other international declarations for human rights as member of UNO and other global organizations, but under different local labour policies and ordinances, Pakistani labour force is still not provided the protection recommended, for example the labour policy of 2010 clearly mentions the need to rationalize and consolidate labour laws because of their complexity, overlapping and difficulties such as low penalties in case of offences and non compliance.

Although trade unions are organized and have contributed in struggle to improve labour conditions, still there is a long way to go as total workforce in Pakistan has reached a number of around 55 million but the number which is unionized is too low for example Pakistan Workers’ Federation (PWF) has around 880,000 members and 419 unions affiliated.  There are big unions especially in government sector such as Railway Workers’ Union Pakistan, K.P.T Labour Union and in some of now privatized corporations such as P.T.C.L Workers’ Union pr K.E.S.C labour Union.  More efforts are required to bring in majority of labour under unions which is not possible without government support.

Agriculture sector is excluded from labour laws in Pakistan and the agriculture work force has no protection, not even on paper. Labour rights in agriculture sector are neglected while agriculture sector is main contributor to economy. Bonded labour is another serious challenge which is highly neglected despite provision of laws such as Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act of 1992.

In summary, human and labour rights advocates highlight following areas which need attention in improving working conditions and state of workers in Pakistan:

  • Health and safety of workers
  • Equal opportunity
  • Elimination of Child labour, minimum age of workers
  • Social Security
  • Skill Development
  • Workers’ rights and relation with employers
  • Workers’ freedom of association
  • Dispute and conflict resolution
  • Improvements in labour laws

Bibliography and recommended reading:

Act No. IV of 2008,

Heymarket Affair,

Labour Policy 2010,

Pakistan Work force Federation,

Sindh Industrial Relations Act 2011,



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