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Weak Trade Union in Pakistan
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Weak Trade Union in Pakistan

Jul 20, 2023

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. The Industrial Relations Act 2012 consolidates the law relating to formation of trade unions and federations of trade unions, determining the collective bargaining agents, regulations of relations between employers and workers. It clearly states that workers have the right to form trade unions and join organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization. The Act further provides how to avoid and settle any disputes or differences. Both the National and Provincial Industrial Relations Acts do not restrict the workers from forming and joining the associations/unions of their own choosing.

After the devolution of the subject of Labour, each Province has enacted its own Industrial Relations Act. The Acts fundamentally provide for consolidating and rationalizing the Provincial laws to facilitate the formation of trade unions and improve the relations between employers and workers. The respective Provincial Acts are as follows:

  1. Balochistan Industrial Relations Act, 2010 (BIRA)
  2. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Industrial Relations Act, 2010 (KPIRA)
  3. Punjab Industrial Relations Act, 2010 (PIRA)
  4. Sindh Industrial Relations Act, 2013 (SIRA)

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. Banking Companies (Amendment) Act, 1997 restricts the involvement of outsiders in the executive body of a trade union and allows only those workers to be part of trade union executive who are actually employed in the bank. Normally, industrial relations legislation allows for 25% of trade union executive as outsiders.

Informal sector workers can form associations as guaranteed under the Constitution. The employers and employees, not covered by the industrial relation legislation, can form and register their organizations and associations as follows:

  1. Societies Registration Act, 1860
  2. The Co-Operative Societies Act, 1925
  3. Trade Organizations Act, 2013



Every Worker can join a union except those working in;

  1. Police or defense services of Pakistan
  2. Administration of state other than Pakistan Railways and Pakistan Post
  3. Pakistan Security Printing Corporation or the Security Papers Limited
  4. 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);
  5. Watch and ward, security or fire service staff of an oil refinery or an airport;
  6. Security or fire service staff of an establishment engaged in the production, transmission or distribution of natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas
  7. Any services or installations exclusively connected with or incidental to the Armed Forces of Pakistan
  8. Export Processing Zone Workers (Notification S.R.O.1004 (1)/82 which exempted EPZs from labour laws)

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