The Sindh Agriculture and Fishing Union Workers (SAFWU) convened their founding convention in Karachi in a local hotel. The convention is a milestone as an essential step in the registration of the union and granting the right to the agriculture and the fishing workers in Sindh to organize and form trade unions. Agriculture sector, which is the major sector in Pakistan, employing approximately 60% of workforce, did not have the right to form unions in Pakistan. After the devolution the government of Sindh under its Sindh Industrial Relations Act (SIRA) granted the right to unionize to the agriculture and fishing workers in the province of Sindh.
The founding convention was attended by around 80 workers from more than 6 districts of Sindh comprising of Thatta, Sukhar, Shahdadpur, Mithii, Badeen, Noshehro Feroz Hyderabad and Karachi. The workers belonged to the agriculture and fishing sector and half of the participants of the convention were women. It is worth mentioning that majority of workers in the agriculture sector comprise of women who are directly or indirectly associated with agriculture in one way or the other. The Sindh Agriculture and Fishing Workers Union (SAFWU) will be one of the first union of its kind in the Sindh Province. An estimated number of one million workers will get the right to organize in the agriculture and fishing sector. These agri workers are usually working without any defined wages, have no defined working hours, lack social protection and have no welfare facilities available for them. Most of them are working for the big landowners and just get wheat for the whole year as wages.
The founding convention was attended by Mr. Muhammad Zahoor Awan, General Secretary, Pakistan Workers Federation (PWF) and member of the governing body of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Mr. Awan oversaw the whole election process of the SAFWU and administered the oath from the elected office bearers.
Speaking on this occasion, Mr. M Zahoor Awan, appreciated the efforts of the SAFWU and said that it’s a first step in the right direction and the government of Sindh has done a remarkable work in giving the right to unionize to the workers of the agriculture and fishing sectors in Sindh. He said that Pakistan had ratified all the core conventions of the ILO and also the Convention C-11 (Right of Association- Agriculture Convention-1921). In the light of these conventions it is the responsibility of the provincial governments to extend this right to the agriculture and fishing workers and the government of Sindh must be appreciated for its initiative in this regard which is an example for the other provincial governments to follow. He emphasized upon the union that they have taken a step in the right direction but this is only the beginning of a long struggle for getting the rights for the workers. He said that agriculture workers face a lot of issues at their workplace and there are often accidents or snakebites etc but there are no Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) standards being met in the fields for the farmers. The lack of first aid medical facilities is one of the major issues of the workers.
He also said that the union must equip itself with education and training on national and international laws which grant them the right to unionize and should also educate their workers so that they can have awareness on workers issues. He called upon the international organizations and specially the ILO to provide support for capacity building of the SAFWU. He also said that PWF will provide support of all kind to the union.
Speaking on the occasion, representative of the ILO Pakistan Office said that this is indeed a great initiative by the workers and the Sindh Government must be appreciated for granting the right to unionize to the workers of agriculture and fishing workers union in Sindh. He said that it’s the mandate of the ILO to strengthen the governments, employers and workers and ILO attaches special attention to the promotion of unions and capacity building of the workers to promote Decent Work in Pakistan. He also conveyed to the workers in the founding convention the message of good wishes from the Country Director of the ILO Pakistan Office. He said that ILO would strive to provide necessary support to the agriculture sector workers, to strengthen their capacities and to impart education and training to them. He also thanked Mr. Zahoor Awan, General Secretary, Pakistan Workers Federation (PWF) for his support and participation in the founding convention and congratulated the newly elected office bearers of the SAFWU and wished them all the best in their struggle.
After the election process Mr. Waqar Memon was elected as General Secretary of the SAFWU, Rafia Gullani as Chairperson, Rafia Sultana Panhwar, Joint Secretary, Asadullah Memon, President, Imam ud Din Dehri as Finance Secretary, Vice President No.1 Qaamr Jalbani, V.President No.2. Abdul Lateef Zargar, V.President No. 3. Jan Muhammad.