KARACHI - Despite of passing a year of the newly democratic government, no significant improvement has been noticed in the lives of the workers rather they are facing more challenges. Rights to freedom of association and collective bargain remain restricted, a number of workers lost their lives due to inadequate health and safety arrangement at workplace, social protection schemes remain limited to few. Hundreds of workers lost jobs with the reason of so-called financial crisis. There was no increase in the wages as compared to sky rocketing inflation, extreme labour exploitation in the shape of bonded labour and child labour also continued. It was said in a Press statement issued by Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) on Thursday on the eve of May Day 2009. The PILER brief highlights the status of labour during the last one year. Even though the present government has replaced the notorious Industrial Relations Ordinance 2002 with the new Industrial Relations Act (IRA) 2008, the trade unions still have serious reservations about the newly enacted Act. Labour leaders complain that the workers were not consulted while formulating the IRA 2008. The government claims that the new Act is for a shorter duration and would be replaced by a comprehensive law by 2010. The government also conducted a so-called Pakistan Tripartite Labour Conference in February 2009 to review IRA 2008 for consensus on a new legislation, till now truly 'broad-based tripartite consultations among social partners is missing. PILER has urged the legislators to incorporate the provisions of ILO Conventions No 87 and 98 relating to Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining while modifying the IRA 2008 to make it acceptable to the workers organisations and extend coverage of social protection schemes to all workers particularly the vulnerable informal sector, home-based women workers and sub-contracted workers. Quoting figures, the PILER statement said out of total labour force of over 50 million in Pakistan, only 6.62 million workers are benefited from the formal social protection schemes of any form. No scheme specifically covers the workers in the informal sector, may they be home-based women workers or workers in small and unregistered factories or sub-contracted workers of the large-scale manufacturing units. The main social insurance schemes, namely EOBI, and ESSIs together cover less than 3 per cent of the total employed workforce in Pakistan as only a small number of establishments with 5 or more workers are registered. The current schemes are heavily tilted towards covering urban formal-sector worker. According to a review of the newspapers during last one year, conducted by PILER, numerous accidents at workplace were reported, reflecting highly unsafe occupational standards across all the sectors of the industry. Of the 311 workers affected by these accidents, 100 lost their lives, almost 150 workers got seriously injured. This is primarily because currently there are no effective inspection mechanisms in place in the four provinces which gives leeway to the employers to neglect an important issue of workers safety. The condition of women labour force is not so encouraging. Pakistan is almost at the lowest position in the world ranking in the labour force participation of women and opportunities for women, occupying 126th position among 128 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum. Of the 10 million employed women, majority 61.8 per cent work as unpaid family helpers compared to 18.6 percent of male unpaid family helpers. Across all industry divisions and all occupations, the average Pakistani woman is getting 3.6 times less than an average male worker. Paradoxically women constitute only a negligible 3 per cent share in the relatively well-paid occupation of Professionals. Low wages and high rate of inflation are hurting the labour force. Almost all those categorised living below the poverty line are workers. Although the government has fixed minimum wages for unskilled workers at Rs6,000 per month, majority of workers are not getting even the current minimum wages. We urge the democratic government on this May Day (2009) to look seriously into the issues of workers who make up the majority of the population, and ensure that all citizens enjoy the right of a dignified life.