Feisal Naqvi

The PPP manifesto

In Uncategorized on December 4, 2007 at 5:21 am

VIEW: The PPP manifesto —Feisal Naqvi

Out of all the political parties out there, it is the Peoples Party that should have some degree of knowledge about labour laws. The fact that the newly launched People’s Party manifesto is conspicuously deficient in this regard does not make me feel good even though labour laws have very little relevance to my life

Do you know about Webcop? No? Well, don’t worry. The People’s Party does not know anything either. The only problem is this; your lack of knowledge is understandable: the PPP’s ignorance is criminal.

Webcop stands for Workers and Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan. In simple terms, Webcop is an organisation in which representatives from workers groups as well as from employers associations sit down and try to hammer out a consensus on law and policy issues before taking their agreed agenda to the government. More importantly, Webcop represents a new way of handling labour issues in Pakistan, one that actually works.

The traditional way to handle labour issues in Pakistan has been for the Government to sign every single international document in sight and then ignore them in practice. At last count, Pakistan’s body of labour laws included more than 160 different laws, regulations and rules, most of which are entirely ignored in real life. The review mechanism of these laws has theoretically been that great bureaucratic monster known as “tripartite” commissions; “tripartite” because the three stakeholders involved in discussions are labour, employers and the government.

In the case of Pakistan, tripartite commissions have conspicuously failed because both the workers and the employers see no incentive to compromise. Instead, both sides stake out extreme positions, leaving the government with the unenviable job of trying to figure out the reasonable middle ground. Or of just letting the whole mess stew around until it becomes somebody else’s headache.

In contrast, Webcop provides a bilateral meeting ground in which the two sides with the most at stake try to come to a common resolution. When they do, they take their common position to the Government, which is then normally quite happy to adopt the consensus position because it knows that all stakeholders will be happy with the proposed change (or at least, happier). And all of this is actually happening in the Land of the Pure where, as we all know, nothing normally ever works.

In the case of the Peoples Party, its apparent ignorance about what is generally considered to be the single most positive development in labour issues over the past decade, if not more, is particularly galling. In the first instance, the Peoples Party has been out of power for more than a decade. If nothing else, the people in its ranks have been afforded ample time to think about what things they would like to fix about this country. Evidently, they spent that time examining real estate opportunities in Dubai.

More significantly, the People’s Party has traded for years on its reputation as the pro-labour party. To the extent that class lines can be drawn, the PPP certainly can make a claim as the standard bearer for the rights of the industrial proletariat. But mouthing platitudes is not enough.

At this point, some readers may be wondering why am I getting all bent out of shape (as the Americans say) about an obscure omission in one part of the PPP’s manifesto? After all, who gives a damn about this stuff?

Nobody, and that is the problem. At this point, our political parties are all united on a single point agenda: anyone but Musharraf. But what is the second point of their agenda? What will happen if some fairy godmother waves her magic wand, sends the army back to the barracks and restores the judiciary? What then?

The point I am trying to make here is that the real hard job of governance is boring stuff, stuff like knowing the difference between trilateral and bilateral negotiations while renegotiating labour laws. If we do not get that stuff right, Pakistan will continue to flounder, irrespective of whether we have a democratically elected leader, irrespective of whether we have an independent judiciary, and irrespective of whether the army goes back to the barracks.

To repeat, out of all the political parties out there, it is the Peoples Party that should have some degree of knowledge about labour laws. The fact that the newly launched People’s Party manifesto is conspicuously deficient in this regard does not make me feel good even though labour laws have very little relevance to my life. Because if the PPP manifesto is useless when it comes to things on which they should have expertise, then it requires a massive leap of faith to believe that the PPP’s intellectual prowess will be more impressive with respect to other issues regarding which they have no historical expertise (as in just about everything else besides labour laws).

At the end of the day, it is the job of our political parties to attract the people with the requisite knowledge about policy issues. Looks like they failed.

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