Regulating for a Fairer Platform Economy: Consultation at the Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services

Posted on 22.11.2023
Pakistan parliament building
PC: Utenriksdepartementet UD, Shutterstock

The ever-evolving landscape of the gig economy is at the forefront of a transformative journey in Pakistan, where the Fairwork Pakistan team (based at the Centre for Labour Research, in partnership with the Fairwork project at the Oxford Internet Institute) has been developing draft legislation to safeguard the rights of platform workers in Pakistan who work on-location. The draft legislation is part of the Fairwork Ratings Pakistan 2023 report and results from two years of consultation with the relevant stakeholders and learning from the best practices globally. 

On 30 October 2023, a diverse group of stakeholders, including two senators, the Director General of the Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services (PIPS), government officials, labour rights advocates, International Labour Organisation (ILO) representatives, worker representatives, and academic experts came together to discuss current issues within the platform economy in Pakistan. The focus was on improving working conditions and promoting fairness in the platform economy through the proposed Islamabad Capital Territory Platform Workers Protection Bill 2023. 

Recap: A Closer Look at the Draft Legislation  

The proposed legislation addresses critical concerns surrounding platform work. It focuses on preventing worker misclassification and ensuring transparency in algorithmic management. The fundamental objective is to protect platform workers’ rights, which include minimum wage, overtime pay, annual leave, sick leave, equal treatment, and the right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining. Crucially, this legislation aligns with both Pakistan’s Constitution, which guarantees legal equality, as well as with the Objectives Resolution, calling for a just and equitable society, founded on Islamic principles of fairness and social justice. The draft legislation goes beyond basic employment rights: it offers a holistic framework that covers various aspects of employment. It emphasizes social security, fair wages, working hours, and transparent employment contracts. Furthermore, it addresses employment security and equitable termination practices, ensuring that worker rights extend to the digital realm. To bring this comprehensive vision to life, the legislation proposes the establishment of crucial institutions. These include a Grievance and Dispute Resolution Committee, a Tripartite-plus Social Dialogue Mechanism, implemented by the Platform Workers Protection Council, and the formation of Works Councils. Additionally, it will ensure easy access to labour inspection and labour inspectors, reflecting a strong commitment to safeguarding the rights and well-being of platform workers.  

Pakistan’s Platform Economy and the Need for Regulatory Measures 

Established through a Parliamentary Act in 2008, PIPS supports lawmakers by conducting research, providing technical assistance to Parliamentarians in the performance of their duties, including legislative drafting, offering professional development, providing information, workshops, and record-keeping, all aimed at strengthening legislative work and transparency in the country. The consultation introduced the draft legislation proposed by the Centre for Labour Research at the PIPS, to address the challenges faced by platform workers Services. PIPS plans to use this draft with Parliamentarians at the national and provincial levels to regulate platform work.  

Iftikhar Ahmad, the lead researcher and founder of the Centre for Labour Research, offered an in-depth perspective on the platform economy and highlighted the imperative need for regulatory measures. His presentation outlined key regulatory practices for platform economy legislation, and focused on preventing worker misclassification, ensuring algorithm management transparency, and securing essential rights for platform workers including the right to earn minimum wage, to be compensated for overtime, and leave entitlements. This legislative framework reinforces the Constitution’s commitment to legal equality and the Objectives Resolution’s vision of a fair and just society, grounded in Islamic principles. 

Ambreen Riaz, a Research Associate at the Centre for Labour Research, gave a detailed presentation on the alignment of draft legislation with International Labour Standards. She emphasized that this legislation is anchored in fundamental rights, ensuring freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. It champions non-discrimination and equal remuneration and aims to eliminate forced labour and child labour from the platform economy.  

The consultation at the Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services (PIPS) witnessed the active participation of key stakeholders from diverse backgrounds. Mr. Aamir Khalil, the Director General (Legislation) at PIPS, gave a welcome address and participated in the discussion on the legislative draft, highlighting the statutory role of PIPS. Ms Khaula Batool, Deputy Director from the Ministry of Human Rights, provided valuable insights and highlighted that the work is in line with the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. He pointed out that the Ministry of Human Rights would like to consider the draft bill for the regulation of platform work in the country. Dr. Mahmood Khalid, a senior research economist at Macro Policy Lab, PIDE, offered a wealth of economic expertise. Mr. Naveed Raja, the Head of Employee Advocacy at PTCL, represented the employee perspective. Mr. Shahid Naeem, the former Chief of the SDG section at the Planning Commission, displayed his commitment to labour rights, and Mr. Syed Saghir Bukhari, the Senior Program Officer at the ILO Country Office, contributed unique insights and offered for the ILO country office to arrange further consultation with the relevant stakeholders. Together, they constituted a well-rounded panel of stakeholders who all actively engage in shaping the future of platform work in Pakistan. 

Key Insights from the Consultation and Next Steps

The incorporation of dispute resolution mechanisms in the draft law is crucial for addressing concerns within the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. This perspective found agreement during the consultation, with support for robust dispute resolution and the recommendation of an overriding clause in the legislation to ensure its supremacy over conflicting provisions in other legislations. These provisions have been included in the updated draft.  

The core focus of the consultation was on the imperative need for regulating the rapidly expanding gig economy. This emphasized the gig economy’s growing significance in terms of employment, economic activity, and services. Focusing on worker protection, concerns were expressed about the potential long-term risks associated with an unregulated gig economy, underscoring the necessity for proactive measures. 

It was also highlighted that the independent member of the Punjab Minimum Wages Board would raise the issue of the inclusion of platform workers in the next Board meeting. It was moreover suggested that instead of presenting the legislation directly, platform employers could be invited to meetings to discuss their challenges and workforce needs. This would align their interests with a productive workforce while also reinforcing their responsibilities. Appreciation for the legislative effort was conveyed, with a commitment to supporting the refinement of the draft bill with expert input from employers, workers, and the government. 

In summary, this consultation marks a significant stride toward enacting the Islamabad Capital Territory Platform Workers Protection Bill 2023. It unites diverse stakeholders in recognizing the pressing need for regulation to safeguard platform workers’ rights and foster fairness in the gig economy. This landmark event lays the foundation for a brighter future, in which platform workers in Pakistan will benefit from legal protections, fair treatment, and improved working conditions. Enacting this legislation promises a more equitable and inclusive platform economy, providing workers with the security and rights they deserve, and ultimately creating a more just and prosperous society.