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Trade Union History of Pakistan

A less known aspect of the life of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah (father of the nation) is that he was also a labour leader and supporter of workers’ cause. He was elected President of the All India Postal Staff Union in 1925. This union had a membership of 70,000. As a member of the Indian Legislative Assembly for over thirty-five years, he played a key role in the enactment of the Trade Union Act, 1926, which provided legal cover to the formation of unions. He attended the founding session of the All India Trade

Union Congress in October 1920. He had personal relationship with the Labour Leaders of that time, including Lala Lajpat Rai, Dewan Chaman Lal, MM Alvi and Subas Chanderbos.

The trade union movement in Pakistan can be traced back to this pre-indepen

dence period. The wage earning class that emerged in the sub-continent due to the introduction of railways and agriculture plantation was the beginning of the trade union movement.

The establishment in 1919 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) greatly influenced the growth and development of trade union movement throughout the world. The arbitrary selection of delegates for the first session of ILO by the Government of India was greatly resented by the trade unions and they organised a convention, where it was decided to form a central organisation of workers namely, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC). Quaid- e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah attended the founding conference of AITUC held on 30 October, 1920 in Bombay. The passing of the Indian Trade Union Act, 1926 and Trade Dispute Act, 1929 gave formal recognition to the workers’ right to organise and settle disputes between parties. The adoption of Convention 87 on right of association and Convention 98 on right of collective bargaining by ILO and the ratification of these important ILO Conventions by Pakistan in the earlier years after independence, paved the way for adoption of legislation favouring workers’ right of association and collective bargaining. The enactment of the Industrial Relations Ordinance, 1969 was a landmark for trade union movement in the country.

Trade union movement was initially opposed by the employers, because most employers at that time (early fifties) were composed of the government (bureaucrats), particularly in sectors like railways, telecommunications, power and industries established by the Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC). They followed the authoritarian tradition of colonial arena, against the participatory approach envisaged in modern industrial Relations. The employers in private enterprises also followed similar approach as that of public sector bureaucrats, and generally were not in favour of trade unions. The formation of trade unions was resisted and obstructions were created by a variety of methods, such as not recognising the trade unions, creating rival trade unions at the same plant and victimisation of trade union officials. There were, however, exceptions too. For instance, as early as in 1951, a foreign company recognised the union and accepted all her legitimate demands. In return the union agreed to double the productivity. The company was able to attain human productivity comparable to its European plant by 1955. All foreign companies were however not alike. A foreign bank issued a written warning to its employees for joining trade unions.


During sixties the conditions somewhat improved. The employers realised the importance of workers’ productivity and offered better deals. The workers attitude also improved and they adjusted to the industrial order. Labour laws enacted during the period also helped in bringing about this change. The attitude of the employers also changed , mainly due to the struggle of workers and enactment of new legislation like the Industrial Relations Ordinance, 1969 replacing the earlier Trade union Act of 1926. The recognition of trade union was made obligatory by law. The employers also realised the importance of stable and contended workforce. Many family concerns were converted into public limited companies run by management boards elected by shareholders. The relationships were getting more impersonalised. The employers started taking interest in labour welfare, which led to reduction in hostility and antagonism towards trade unions.

By late sixties the bureaucrat as employer were less visible. However, with the 1972 nationalisation of key industries the composition again changed as most industrial units went again under the management of bureaucrats. Professionals were also included in the management of public sector enterprises. This trend continued till eighties when government started a policy of dis- investment. Both public and private sector enterprises started inducting professionals as managers. Their approach towards unions was also growing accommodative.