What is a trade union and what are relevant laws in Pakistan for trade union activities?
Labor law in Pakistan defines ‘trade union’ as a combination of workmen whose primary purpose is to promote and defend workers’ rights and interests in an industry or establishment.
The right to join association is guaranteed under article 17 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which says, “Every citizen shall have the right to form associations or unions, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan, public order or morality”. Article 17 of the Constitution not only guarantees freedom of association but also collective bargaining as a fundamental right.
Keeping in view this provision, labour law in Pakistan allows formation and joining of trade unions/associations to both the employers and the employees. There is a special law in Pakistan for trade union registration and settlement of industrial disputes i.e., Industrial Relations Act. After passage of 18th Constitutional amendment, labor is no longer a subject on concurrent list i.e. central government can no longer legislate in labor related matters. Though provinces are allowed to legislate in labor matters now, yet only Punjab province has enacted its “Punjab Industrial Relations Act 2010” so far. The other three provinces and federal capital territory are still in the process of consultation on new legislation.
Workers are entitled to join a union without previous authorization; however, they can become members of only one union at a time. If a worker joins more than one union at a time, his earlier membership will get cancelled. Moreover, both workers and employers have the right to join federations and confederations, which have the right to affiliate with international organizations.
Can I join a union?
Every Worker can join a union except those working in;
- Police or defense services of Pakistan
- Administration of state other than Pakistan Railways and Pakistan Post
- Pakistan Security Printing Corporation or the Security Papers Limited
- Hospital or institution for the treatment or care of sick, infirm, destitute or mentally unfit persons excluding those run on commercial basis (only trusts are exempted);
- Watch and ward, security or fire service staff of an oil refinery or an airport;
- Security or fire service staff of an establishment engaged in the production, transmission or distribution of natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas
- Any services or installations exclusively connected with or incidental to the Armed Forces of Pakistan
- Export Processing Zone Workers (Notification S.R.O.1004 (1)/82 which exempted EPZs from labour laws)
Other than these, Industrial Relations laws are also not applicable to agriculture sector where around 45% of the labor force is employed (Labor Force Survey 2008-09). Agriculture workers are free to join and form associations, however, they can’t collectively bargain under the Industrial Relations Act as this law is not applicable to the agriculture sector.
How can we register a union? What are the requirements? Please guide.
A trade union can apply for registration to the office of Registrar of trade union in a province. While submitting the application for registration, you need to attach a statement showing name and address of trade union, its date of formation, relevant information of its office bearers (like titles, names, ages, addresses and occupations), name of establishment and industry to which this union relates, total number of workers employed in establishment and the total paid membership, etc. Above-mentioned are called the requirements of application.
There are also registration requirements, which require that:
- All members of a trade union should be workmen, engaged in same establishment (you can’t take members outside your establishment)
- If there are two or more unions in your establishment, your membership must not be less 20% (some laws stipulate 25%) of total employed workforce (it means only 4-5 unions can exist in your establishment)
- Only up to 25% of the executive body members can be outsiders (those who are not actually employed as workmen in your establishment)
- The Constitution of your trade union should also provide information on
- Name and address of trade union
- Objectives of your trade union
- Usage of funds (purpose)
There are other requirements as well. Please go through the Industrial Relations Act of your province or capital territory, depending upon your location, for further information. After registration, the Registrar of trade unions will issue you a certificate of registration as a conclusive evidence of your trade union’s registration.
Registration of your union can be cancelled either by Registrar of trade unions or Labor Court. The Registrar can cancel your union’s registration if it:
- Did not apply for determination of CBA within 2 months of registration (in case no CBA already exists)
- Did not contest in a referendum for determining CBA
- Secured less than 15% of polled votes in a referendum for determining CBA
Please keep in mind that these are not the only reasons for cancellation of registration.
What is a Collective Bargaining Agreement and how is it determined?
Collective Bargaining Agent is a trade union, which is the elected agent of workers in an establishment. A collective bargaining agent is elected after holding a secret ballot election if there is more than one union in an establishment. However if there exists only one union and its members are at least one-third of total workers in an establishment and it makes an application for certification, then it can be certified as CBA by Registrar. In case of more than one union, Registrar is to hold a secret ballot election within 15 or 30 days (depending on establishment size) after having received application for determining status of CBA. Those who are eligible to vote are i) with at least 3 months of service, ii) members of a trade union contesting the elections and iii) registered as voters in the voters list. A trade union can’t be certified as CBA unless the votes received by it are at least 33% of total employed workers in an establishment. If no union receives at least 33 of total votes (of employed workers), a second election will be held between two unions, who have secured highest number of votes. Thus, the union that wins this run-off election will be certified as CBA. The CBA engages in collective bargaining with employer on any matter of employment, non-employment, terms of employment and working conditions. CBA also represents workers in any proceedings, gives notice of strike and nominates workers on boards of Provident Fund and Workers’ Participation Fund in an establishment.
Can you please tell us the process for declaring strike and lockout?
Strike is the cessation of work by a worker in establishment acting in combination or a concerted refusal of employed workers to continue to work to accept employment while lockout is closure. Similarly, suspension (of work) or refusal on employer’s part to continue employment of workers where this action is related to an industrial dispute or where aim of this action is to compel workers to accept certain conditions of employment also falls in the ambit of strike/lockout. It must be emphasized here that strike and lockout are not fundamental rights, in contrast to right to association and collective bargaining (under a 1997 Supreme Court decision).
Strike or lockouts can be declared only for industrial disputes and not for individual grievances. Only an employer or CBA can raise industrial disputes, while following certain steps. They first need to negotiate on any arising industrial dispute. If disputant parties are unable to resolve matter through negotiation, they can go for conciliation. On the request of employer or CBA, Federal or Provincial Governments can appoint a tripartite Board of Conciliators. If conciliation fails, both the parties can either go for arbitration (by an agreed upon arbitrator). The award of arbitrator is final and can’t be appealed against. However, if they don’t refer the matter to an arbitrator, CBA can go on a strike or employer can declare a lockout (both after serving necessary notices). While during the strike/lockout, any party can apply to Labor Court for adjudication.
Can Government prohibit a strike or lockout?
Government can prohibit an ongoing strike or lockout (before completion of 30 days), if it is satisfied that it is causing serious hardship to community or harmful for the national interest. Strikes and Lockouts are also prohibited in public utility services and disputes are referred by government for compulsory arbitration.
You can also send us your compliant form on the following address:
Workers Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan,
A-198, Block-13, Behind Jofa Towers,
Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Off Main University Road, Karachi