Coronavirus lockdown: HRW asks Pakistan to take special measures to protect workers’ welfare


The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Pakistani government to take urgent steps to mitigate the economic impact of coronavirus on the most vulnerable workers in the country.

In a statement released by HRW on Wednesday, the group urged the government to adopt measures to protect workers from suffering a loss of income which they believe can push them further into poverty and force them to end their self-isolation.

“The Pakistan government should take measures so that the loss of livelihood and income doesn’t compound the threats workers face to their health,” Brad Adams, the Asia director for HRW said. “The economically marginalised are among the most vulnerable groups affected by COVID-19, and the government should urgently find ways to protect them.”

The group said that as the global supply chains in numerous sectors, especially the garment and textile industry, was being disrupted there has been exacerbated factory closures and layoffs. The group feared that there was a risk that hundreds of thousands of workers in jobs linked to the global economy will be forced into part-time work for less income or lose their jobs.

The group noted that a lack of written labour contracts, inadequate legal protections, and poor enforcement of labour laws and regulations could heighten the problems during this crisis.

“Human Rights Watch research on the garment industry in Pakistan found that Pakistani labour laws and regulations do not adequately protect these workers, and constitutional safeguards are seldom enforced. The use of verbal contracts means that most do not have paid sick leave, social security, or health insurance, leaving them particularly vulnerable during an industrial shutdown and the pandemic,” said the group.

The group also noted that economic shutdowns also have a disproportionate effect on women workers, especially home-based workers and domestic workers. It urged the government to provide low-wage workers with assistance to help offset the intense economic hardship and food insecurity from the situation.

The federal and some provincial governments have taken measures to mitigate the impact on low-income and daily wage workers.

The HRW noted that even though the federal and Punjab governments have announced economic packages for businesses and workers and monthly payments of Rs3,000 and Rs4,000, the amount decided was significantly lower than the minimum wage in any province and “is likely to be inadequate”.

“The federal government and other provincial governments should consider other measures, including the Sindh government’s approach,” said the Human Rights Watch.

The rights group noted that unconditional tax cuts for employers were at many times poorly targeted and may not reach those most in need. The group instead called on the government to expand the social insurance programmes that include unemployment benefits so it could permit workers in the formal and informal economy to prioritise their health needs.

The group urged donors, international financial institutions, and global companies that depend on Pakistani workers to work together to create social protection for workers.

“The government’s failure to enforce labour laws has contributed to garment and textile workers being among the most vulnerable segments of Pakistani society,” Adams said.

“The Pakistani authorities should meet their obligation to protect workers while considering necessary measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19.”