PAKISTAN: ILO, workers urged to oppose "slave labour" bill


Hong Kong: July 9, 2006. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on Tuesday called on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and workers` groups to censure the government of Pakistan over a bill to amend laws protecting working hours and conditions, which it described as "illegal" and intended to reintroduce "slave labour" to the country.
In a statement the Hong Kong-based regional group said that the passing of the amendments to various laws under the annual finance bill would have the effect of throwing workers back to the 17th century.
"This so-called law is patently illegal and must be firmly opposed by all workers groups, journalists, lawyers and other concerned persons in Pakistan and internationally," Baseer Naveed, a senior advisor on South Asia to the AHRC, said.
"Having pushed the bill through the lower house without debate, the government didn`t even bother to submit it to the upper house as required by law," Naveed said.
"The contents of the bill, which is ostensibly about the national budget, have the effect of legalising slave labour in Pakistan," he said.
"It is an outrage to the international standards that for years the ILO has sought to establish and must be exposed and unequivocally rejected," Naveed added.
The AHRC has indicated that it will approach the ILO directly to take up the case.
"In a functioning society with respect for the basic tenets of the rule of law, were a government to attempt to get away with such nonsense then people could turn to the courts for relief," Basil Fernando, executive director of the AHRC, observed.
"But in Pakistan there is no hope to be found in the courts, which are utterly compliant with the wishes and objectives of the military government and have at every turn been accomplices to the rubbishing of the country`s constitution," Fernando said.
"For this reason, people are left with little choice but to take to strong public action, and for this the support of the international community is of great importance," he said.
"It is for this reason that we are especially calling upon the ILO and also the UN Human Rights Council to take up this issue and demand that the government of Pakistan withdraw this bill in its entirety and comply with its domestic and international obligations," Fernando added.

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