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Workers at a textile factory in Faisalabad, Pakistan on June 7, 2013. © 2013 AP Photo/B.K. Bangash

Labor rights advocates in Pakistan have after many years persuaded the government of Sindh province, the country’s third largest, to increase and implement the statutory minimum wage. However, this significant victory will be put to the test before Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which on January 27 ordered that Sindh’s minimum wage increase be reevaluated.

The new monthly minimum wage – from PKR 17,500 (US$100) to PKR 25,000 (US$142) – was a result of long and sustained advocacy by labor rights groups in Pakistan. Domestic and international groups including IndustriALL, the National Trade Union Federation, and the Home Based Women Workers Federation widely welcomed the increase.

In December, in response to a petition from the Employers’ Federation of Pakistan, the Supreme Court suspended the increase.

The minimum wage rate in Pakistan is legislated periodically by Pakistan’s four provincial governments. However, according to a 2017 study published by the International Labour Organization, more than half of all workers in the garment, textile, and footwear industry were paid less in 2014-15 than the statutory monthly minimum.

Human Rights Watch has documented a range of labor rights violations particularly in Pakistan’s garment factories, including a failure to pay minimum wages and pensions, suppression of independent labor unions, forced overtime, insufficient breaks, and disregarded regulations requiring paid maternity and medical leave. Human Rights Watch has also identified problems in the government’s labor inspection system.

The Sindh government’s decision to increase the minimum wage above the national average has provided hope to millions of workers in Pakistan. Human Rights Watch believes that governments should ensure that all workers are paid a living wage as part of the government’s obligation to uphold everyone’s right to an adequate standard of living as recognized by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The onus is now on the Pakistani federal and provincial governments to ensure that Pakistan meets its international obligations, not just in Sindh, but throughout Pakistan. Employers and factory owners need to know they have a legal responsibility to pay adequate and timely wages to their workers.

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