Occupational Injuries and Workplace Safety Management Among Internal Migrant Workers

By Muhammad Umair & Lubna Naz

Occupational well-being and workplace safety management are some of the leading concerns for researchers, policymakers, and governments. The International Labour Organization (ILO i) defines occupational injury as “a personal injury/disease that can lead to an extremum of death due to an occupational accident.” An occupational accident is a work-related mishap that is unintentional and inadvertent. It ranges from minor injury to a serious one. There are more than 374 million nonfatal occupational injuries annually worldwide, causing a loss worth approximately 4 percent of global output, and four days’ absence from work.

According to the Labour Force Survey, 2017-18, internal migrants comprise one-tenth of the labor force of Pakistan. The LFS statistics indicate high prevlanace ( four percent per annum) of work-related injury/disease among the migrant labor force. Further, the data on occupational injuries reveal bewildering differentials across gender in Pakistan. Male migrants sustain more injuries (93 percent) than their female counterparts (7 percent). Injured males are usually middle-age or old and have longer working hours as compared to females. It may be due to lesser women being employed in heavy mechanical jobs or construction-related work where injury risks are likely to be higher. The sector-wise data also confirms the female’s absence in heavy mechanical jobs.

According to the latest Labour force statistics ii, the gender wage gap of 42 percent exists between male migrant and female migrant workers; male migrants earn 17,456 PKR on average in Pakistan, while the average wage of female migrants stand around 10,236 PKR. Pakistan Labour Policy 2010 stresses ending gender discrimination by ensuring equal pay for equal work and equal pay for work of equal value. It is in line with the ratification of “the ILO convention on equal remuneration, 1951 (No. 100) by the Government of Pakistan in 2001”. However, the government has been unable to implement the protocol in its true spirit for various reasons. Some excuses lamented by government functionaries include unregistered businesses, employment of female workers in small firms comprising five or fewer workers, and female home-based workers.

The data of occupational injuries among migrants reveals the highest rates of injuries in industrial (40 percent), followed by services (31 percent) and agriculture (29 percent). However, among all workers, workplace injuries are the highest in the agriculture sector and show an increasing trend from 2001 onwards. Among the migrant labor force, the burden of occupational injuries in rural areas is two-fold than urban areas.

Migrant workers without families are the most susceptible—the occupational injury of a single migrant male needs more financial, social, and moral support. In the case of an occupational injury/ disease, these workers are more likely to get worse financially and psychologically. ILO Convention iii emphasizes safeguarding workers’ well-being and providing a safe working environment. Similarly, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 calls for a healthy life and well-being, and SDG 8 stresses to achieve decent work for all eligible workers.

In Pakistan, the primary reasons for occupational injuries among internal migrant workers include taking a precarious position without proper gear or carelessness (i.e., excess speed) while working with sophisticated machines. Slippery surfaces, use of defective tools, and outdated equipment also contribute to unsafe working conditions. In the case of minor injuries/diseases, it takes fewer working hours or days to get back to work. In contrast, serious injuries impose heavy penalties on workers in the form of disability, death, and reduced working weeks or layoffs.

The Labour Policy 2010, proposed to extend the coverage of Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923, to provide compensation in case of injury or death. Furthermore, the Provincial Employees’ Social Security Ordinance, 1965 (administered by the provincial governments), proposed to cover the contingencies of injury/disease up to 10,000 PKR/month. The Social Security Scheme proposed a death grant of 15,000 PKR for funeral expenses. It also aimed to bear the cost of public/private hospitalization and the provision of medical facilities to retired registered workers. However, the coverage remains static over the decades iv.

After the 18th amendment in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the first Sindh Labour Policy 2018, Punjab Labour Policy 2018, and K-P (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) Labour Policy 2018 have been announced. The governments planned a tripartite with the employees and employers for the implementations of the labor laws. Despite this, labor laws seem to be implemented only in a few of the public enterprises and multinational corporations. Still, all provinces need to ensure implementation of constituted laws align with the internationally approved regulations and ILO conventions at the broader scale.

LFS 2017-18 provides limited information on the causes and consequences of occupational injuries, and certain body parts affected by the injury. It merely provides information on the type of injury (none, single and multiple) and treatment sought after getting injured. Sufficient data is not available on one-time financial support, health care, and social security offered by the employer or work-establishment to the worker in minor or severe injuries. Further, records on death and compensation are not available. The unavailability of such information imposes a limitation on researchers to produce concrete evidence on occupational health care and safety management in Pakistan.

Policies are needed to steer data collection in agreement with the “Occupational Health and Safety Management Convention 1980 of the ILO, P155-Protocol 2002 .” Annual labour force statistics should include type and intensity of injuries and treatments offered at the work-place, compensations given to injured or relatives of the dead workers, trainings provided to workers on the use of equipment, and work-safety measures taken by firms in pursuance of the policies.

The need of the hour is the accuracy and comprehensiveness in reporting workplace injuries/diseases. Workplace safety management and skill development programs can reduce the burden of occupational injuries and subsequently contribute to minimizing economic losses. First-aid training should be enforced as mandatory for all workers in every business or enterprise. There is a need to monitor the working and progress of the Tripartite Health Safety Council. It was promised to be set up in the Labour force policy in 2010 to redress grieviences of workers of all economic sectors.

Increased working hours amplifies the likelihood of injuries due to fatigue and an unhealthy working environment. Internal migrant workers accept job-offers with long working hours or work overtime to earn some additional money or compensate for low earned income, which adversely affects work-leisure time management. There is also a need to monitor enforcement of laws that prohibit long working hours and an unhealthy working environment in Pakistan. To sum up, work-place safety management issues are mainly related to the weak implementtion of the existing policies and data unavailability on work-place environment.


Muhammad Umair is a PhD scholar/Lecturer, Department of Economics, University of Karachi.

Lubna Naz is an Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, University of Karachi, Karachi.

i International Labour Organization (ILO)

ii Authors calculations from Pakistan Labour Force Survey 2017-18

iii International Labour Organization

iv Labour Policy 2010, Government of Pakistan

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