Labor protection for religious workers | Political economics

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did you know that even by the most conservative estimates, Pakistan has one mosque for every 99 Muslim men in the country? Pakistan has a population of 229 million, nearly 96% of whom are Muslims. that is to say, 220 million. The male Muslim population is approximately 113 million. Among them, 99 million are aged 5 and over. We have considered only the male population since women, although constituting 49% of the total population of the country, generally do not have access to mosques, except on rare occasions and in certain places.

Although finding the number of mosques in Pakistan can be a difficult exercise, estimates vary between one million and four million. A 2008 publication by Routledge put the number of mosques in Pakistan at one million. The number must have increased over the past 14 years. We arrived at the above number of 99 male Muslims per mosque using the lowest estimate of one million mosques. A mosque usually employs one to two people, sometimes more, depending on the size of the mosque and its location.

The religious sector (mosques and madrassas) therefore employs 1.5 to 2 million people. Government data indicates that there are 35,000 registered and unregistered madrassas, accommodating three million students. This is a potential job offer, ready to join the religious labor market. It is a growing labor market with dismal working conditions, poverty wages and no access to government-run social protection systems. In most places, the amount paid is less than the current minimum wage of Rs 20,000 per month, making clerics dependent on charity.

A imam leads congregational prayers in a mosque. His general duties include leading daily prayers, Friday prayers, tarawih prayers during Ramazan and Eid prayers, teaching children madrassa, organize and lead funeral prayers and bathe the deceased, if necessary. Mosques are a center of communal worship where Muslims come to pray together. Historically, mosques have also served political, social and cultural functions.

Ibne Taymiyah, the famous jurist, viewed the mosque as a gathering place to say congregational prayers and conduct public affairs. He quoted the Holy Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) who advised a person to become an imam or muezzin in his tribe when said person asked him for a task. Various ahadith emphasize the importance of those who serve the mosques.

In another instance, the Holy Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) ordered Muslims to honor the bearers of the Quran (scholars and those who memorized the Quran). However, workers in religious institutions are mostly deprived of their basic rights. Exploitation is commonplace in the sector because most masjid committees and directors keep imams and poorly paid muezzins. The affair of madrassa teachers is no different.

Why should religious institutions be under the protection of labor law? Firstly, because the religious teachings in this regard have not been respected by the masjid the committees and administrators and the working and living conditions of religious workers are dismal. Second, because mosques are already regulated by various laws in the country.

The Islamabad Capital Territory Waqf Properties Act 2020 requires the registration of mosques as waqf properties with the Islamabad Capital Territory Administration. Similar requirements are found in Punjab under the Punjab Waqf Properties Ordinance 1979. Also, mosques have always been registered under the Companies Registration Act 1860. The ICT Disability Rights Act 2020 also applies to mosques, as it does to all public buildings. , guaranteeing ease of access and mobility for people with disabilities.

The Protection from Harassment of Women in the Workplace Act 2010 (amended 2022) also applies to mosques and madrassas in cases of harassment. If the government can regulate religious institutions (masajid and Madaris) to meet FATF requirements, it can also regulate working conditions in these institutions by placing them under the jurisdiction of labor law.

Given the situation, the Center for Labor Research proposes a declaration of rights for workers in religious institutions. These workers can either be placed under the protection of currently available labor laws, or new legislation, focused primarily on these workers, can be enacted. Given the legislative norm of enacting sectoral legislation to protect the rights of marginalized groups, as has been done for domestic and home-based workers, it would make sense to enact framework legislation at the national level, which can be monitored by the provinces as a minimum standard.

Masjid committees should be required to abide by this bill of rights, and when submitting annual reports to government entities, their compliance with these rights should be verified. Article 3 of the constitution requires the state to eliminate all forms of exploitation. The current exploitation of religious workers must end as it violates the constitutional guarantee. It imposes on the state the duty to regulate the sector as an Islamic welfare state would.

Right to a written employment contract

Masjid committees/administrators must offer a written employment contract (full-time or part-time) to a religious worker (imam, muezzin, teaching staff, etc.). The Quran requires financial agreements to be in written form (2:282). An employment contract specifying wages is also a financial contract; hence the obligation to have it in written form. Additionally, the Quran commands people to keep their promises (2:177, 23:08, 70:32). Elsewhere, the Quran requires people to fulfill their obligations (05:01) because the question will be asked on the day of judgment whether one has fulfilled his obligations or not (17:34).

Right to a minimum wage

Provincial minimum wage boards must notify minimum wages for workers in the religious sector. The minimum wage must take into account the local cost of living and be declared on a regional basis. Islam refers to a living wage which requires wages to be sufficient to meet the basic needs of workers and their families. The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) instructed employers to “make workers satisfied with their basic needs”. The second and third caliphs, Umar and Usman (with whom Allah was pleased), set the salaries of the muezzins and imams during their respective reigns. It is reported that Umar (with whom Allah was pleased) used to determine wages according to the conditions prevailing in the city and the needs of the employees.

Unfortunately, there are many cases of wage theft in the religious sector. These workers are forced to work long hours (starting as early as 4 a.m. and lasting until 9 p.m.) and paid much less in relation to the work and effort. Withholding a worker’s wages or giving less than is due are among the most serious sins.

Right to adequate family accommodation

Most religious workers have families in the villages. This robs families of quality time as these workers cannot afford housing in cities. Building laws that govern the construction of mosques should ensure that the construction plan includes separate and appropriate accommodation for religious workers and their families. If this is not provided on the premises, this should be the responsibility of the mosque committee to arrange or pay for rental accommodation in the area.

Right to social security

Instead of seeking charity, religious workers should be registered with social welfare bodies (provincial employee social security bodies — PESSI and EOBI, and their contributions should be paid by the employer, that is to say, the committee/administrators of the mosque. This will ensure that religious workers and their families are covered in the event of injury or illness. Government departments are also losing big by not regulating the sector and registering these workers. The PESSI and EOBI lose an estimated amount of Rs 36 billion per year due to missed dues that could have been paid for these workers by their institutions and masjid committees.

Every year on May 1, leaders of the federal and provincial governments issue messages reiterating the importance of workers in an economy and quoting the words of the Holy Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) regarding workers’ wages and highlighting the measures that the governments take for the welfare of workers. Unfortunately, religious workers have been left unsupervised and unprotected for far too long. It’s time for the federal government to take up the issue and enact framework legislation that guarantees these workers the same basic labor protections that other workers in the country enjoy.


The author is the founder of the Center for Labor Research, Pakistan. He is co-author of the Islamic Labor Code, based on the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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