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In Pakistan’s garment factories, pregnant women are fired or sent on forced leave

We work longer hours and there is not even sick leave, says a worker

SAMAA | - Posted: Jan 24, 2019 | Last Updated: 3 years ago
Posted: Jan 24, 2019 | Last Updated: 3 years ago

We work longer hours and there is not even sick leave, says a worker

Photo: UNDP

Women workers in Pakistan’s garment factories are fired or sent on forced leave when they become pregnant, Human Rights Watch revealed in a report on January 23. They are not given any maternity leave. 

The women interviewed for the report asserted that in practice there is no maternity leave since pregnant women are either fired or themselves leave the job for a few months.

The factories say that pregnant women have ‘left’ work, which is an industry term for termination. “Whenever a woman worker becomes pregnant, she leaves the job herself to avoid the indignity of being fired,” said a woman who works in a Karachi factory.

Related: In Pakistan’s sweatshops, workers are fired for asking for toilet breaks

This is a country-wide trend as these revelations were echoed by another woman who has been working for at a Lahore-based garment factory since the last years. “In truth, we work longer hours and there is not even sick leave. Salary is deducted if someone is unwell even for a day. There is no maternity leave. Any woman who becomes visibly pregnant is told to leave,” she said.

Women workers are exceptionally disempowered and discriminated against in the garment industry in Pakistan, the global human rights organization said in its report, ‘No Room to Bargain: Unfair and Abusive Labor Practices in Pakistan.’

These revelations, made public on January 23, may not be surprising when seen in the context of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016, which ranks Pakistan at 143rd out of 144 countries in the gender inequality index, better than only Yemen.

Related: Pakistan’s home-based women workers are paid Rs5 per garment

“Many women are employed as a contract, piece-rate, non-unionized workers in low-paid and low-skilled roles,” the Human Rights Watch said.

The report highlights poor working conditions at garment factories, which employ 4.2 million people, most of whom are women. It identifies a range of labour rights violations affecting the lives of these factory workers whose plight remains off the political agenda of the country’s ruling elite

In a field survey of 140 people from 24 factories in Karachi, Lahore and Hafizabad, workers, many of them women, said that they experienced verbal abuse, were pressured not to take toilet breaks, and were even denied clean drinking water. People demanding their rights could be threatened or fired.

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