March 16th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
The Sindh High Court has expressed its shock over the massive exploitation of the unskilled workers, observing that the minimum wage policy has not helped raise their income.
The court’s observation was given during the judgment for a petition on the payment of the minimum wage to all janitorial workers of the cantonment boards in Karachi.
A division bench comprising Justice Mohammad Shafi Siddiqui and Adnan-ul-Karim Memon observed that the janitorial staff (sweepers) working on daily wages or a contract basis got a little amount per month.
The SHC noted that unfortunately, the subject laws are not being implemented in their letter and spirit which are for the welfare and improvement of the financial condition of unskilled workers.
“They are in low-paid and insecure work. The financial condition of these people is dismal. They have been living hand-to-mouth lives,” reads the judgment.
The minimum wage needs to be continually raised
The court directed that the federal and provincial governments must contemplate the rationale of the minimum wages in light of the law and keep raising the amount to adjust for inflation and other factors.
“The minimum wages should be fixed for both formal and informal sectors,” the judges wrote in the order, adding that there is a need to evolve a mechanism of stringent legal actions for the violation of the law by some industry, factory, or other business entity.
The court rejected the contention that the janitorial staff was employees of a third-party contractor and not of the cantonment boards, observing that ‘it is a normal practice on behalf of such employers to create a pretense and on that pretense to outsource the employment against permanent posts’.
The Sindh High Court cited two supreme court judgments that employees of third-party contractors would be considered employees if they are paid salaries from the account of an organization and not from the contractor’s accounts.
In the second instance, the court observed that where an employer retains or assumes control over the means and method by which the work of a Contractor is to be done, it may be said that the relationship of employer and employee exists between him and the employees of the contractor.
“Keeping in view the rule of parity and equity, all the janitorial staff even if considered to be the employees of the contractor, which is not the correct position, they have been performing duties of permanent nature ought to have been on regular strength of respondent-cantonment boards,” the judgment reads.
Minimum wage board to submit periodic reports
The high court disposed of the petition in the light of a report submitted by Zahid Hussain Khemtio, Chairman of Sindh Minimum Wages Board, on 14th December 2020. The SHC directed the chairman of Sindh Minimum Wages Board to submit periodical reports to the court to implement the aforesaid laws for the betterment of janitorial staff of respondent-cantonments which were directed to cooperate with him in the enforcement of the laws.
The court directed the cantonment boards to implement the recommendations of the chairman of the Sindh Minimum Wages Board under the law. The petitioners’ counsel, Faisal Siddiqui, submitted that the minimum wage of Rs17,500 was being paid to the janitorial staff of the CBC since August 2020 in view of the orders passed by the court in the instant petition.
Court order hailed
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Karamat Ali, Executive Director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (PILER), praised the SHC judgment.
He said the judgment would pave the way for an increase in the minimum wage but also lead to better implementation and enforcement of the minimum pay for unskilled workers across the province and country.
“Unfortunately, the minimum wage is not being enforced in the informal sector due to lack of enforcement,” he said.
Ali said the SHC has also called for separate minimum wages for unskilled workers in formal and informal sectors. He said the judgment will help the exploitation of workers by the employers.