ILC 2021 events where HNI was present

ILO side event: Extending Social Protection to Workers in the Informal Economy

Organized by the Global Network of Workers in the Informal Economy and WIEGO

Speech by Saira Feroze

HNI International Working Committee member

My name is Saira Feroze, I am the finance secretary of the Home-based Women Workers Federation, based in Pakistan and I am also the Working Committee member of HomeNet International. Social security is extremely important to home-based workers. The Constitution of Pakistan guarantees that all citizens should receive social security and it is a fundamental right however it lacks in implementation. One of the reasons for this is that laws need to be reformed. A small percentage of workers in the formal sector are able to benefit, but the majority of informal sector workers are not able to access social security. Even within the organized formal sector a very small percentage of workers are able to benefit from the social security meant for them.

Social protection not only includes health benefits, it also consists of many other benefits such as: pension, minimum wages, child care and education, maternity benefits, death and accident insurance, cash transfers during natural disasters and pandemics like Covid-19. In Pakistan, more than 20 million workers have lost their jobs due to Covid-19. During these times income support and minimum wages can lead to improved lives for workers and their families.

The current pandemic has led to a sizable number of workers from the organized sector being laid off from work, or being hired on a contract basis. And since factories are getting closed, a significant amount of work has been shifted to working from home, for instance now they are making masks, amongst other products. Informalization of labour is on the rise, where organized sector workers are shifting to the unorganized section. So, the issue of the lack of social protection isn’t limited to the unorganized sector. The unorganized sector is huge, it includes home-based workers (HBWs), domestic workers, street vendors, but also people who are working on a contract basis in the formal sector. In fact, social protection becomes more relevant when workers don’t have laws to protect them, like in the case of home-based workers.

Workers play an important role in the growth of the economy but they do not have access to their labour rights. Social protection becomes more important in the present situation. If HBWs are able to work for only 6 months in a year, they should be given an unemployment allowance by the government for the rest of the six months, which will also support them to come out of the poverty leading to the psychological stress. 

Social protection is a safety net from the shocks they face in life. If they fall ill, suffer an accident, face a situation like the pandemic, when they grow old, etc.

In Pakistan, there is a policy for home-based workers in the Sindh province. In Punjab, it has been passed by the Cabinet, now it will be presented in the Assembly but it will take a long time before it gets passed in the Assembly. There are around 12 million home-based workers, so if these laws get passed all over the country then workers will get protected.

All workers in Pakistan are demanding for social protection, however, our own government is in debt. Countries who are suffering, workers who are suffering should not be in a position of debt to financial institutions like the IMF. Home-based workers are taking a lead in protesting against the IMF policies.

Around social protection, Home-based Women’s’ Workers Federation has taken the lead and made a draft in which we are demanding three things:

  1. Unemployment allowance
  2. Health benefits
  3. Pension

Since there is a lack of data on people working in the informal sector, it makes it difficult to identify workers who are eligible for the unemployment allowance. And, therefore we are demanding for universalization for social protection, which can cover all workers, despite their employment status and recognition as workers.

We held a conference in the Sindh province of Pakistan, where we gathered the demands of home-based workers. We will share the draft social security policy to the Sindh government and advocate for it’s implementation.

Many major illnesses occur during work. In this way, they can benefit from the government’s scheme and get treatment. This will improve worker’s health and allow them to do their work better and thus increase productivity. We also held a press conference today in which all this information was disseminated to the general public and our demands were presented. We have demanded that the issue of social security be made universal so that everyone is aware of it and people are aware of their rights so that they can assert their rights.

Social security is also important because the current Covid-19 has affected a large number of workers. In the next phase, we will move on to the issues of unemployment allowance and pension.

So social protection is important for everyone and it should be universalized for all workers, including home-based workers.

3 June 2021 - 19 June 2021


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Laura Revelo

HNI Communications Officer