If we talk about general impression, it obviously is that foreigners are not too keen on serving in Pakistan because of security reasons. On the other hand, there are dignitaries like Country Director International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Pakistan Dong Li, who wants to continue as long as possible despite being the longest serving head of any United Nations Agency.
He is serving in Pakistan for past six and a half years where as the maximum term for any country director is four to five years. “I have overstayed because I love this country and its people. I want to contribute more in improving the working conditions in Pakistan,” said Dong Li who originally belongs to China. “I have never asked for transfer as I want to stay shoulder to shoulder with my staff and the people of Pakistan,” he said in an interview with ‘The News’. The ILO also has a distinction of being the first UN agency to have presence in Pakistan as its office was established in 1970 in Lahore.
In recognition of the outstanding contributions of this exemplary UN leader, the Government of Pakistan awarded Dong Li with Sitar-e-Imtiaz on this Independence Day. Serving as a director for ILO in Pakistan since July 2004, he was conferred with this award for his passion and hard work that enabled ILO to support the government in establishing the requisite policies, building capacities, and providing required support to the Government of Pakistan.
Prior to becoming ILO Director, Dong Li worked as special advisor Regional Director, ILO office for Asia and Pacific in Bangkok. “During our stay, I and my family have learnt profusely about Pakistan, its people, its rich cultural heritage and its history and religion. We have come across some marvellous Pakistani and foreign friends whose friendship we cherish in our hearts,” he said.
Highlighting his achievements as a Country Director in Pakistan, he said that Pakistan has met huge progress in labour field. After Sri Lanka Pakistan is the second country in this region that has signed 36 international labour conventions. “These conventions include eight core conventions relating to abolition of forced labour, equality and elimination of child labour.”
He said that statistics collected in 1996 show that there are 3.5 million children working in different sectors. “To get the latest figure, the ILO plans to assist the government for national child rights survey next year,” he said while adding that pilot survey has already been started in Sukkur and Sahiwal where the concentration of child labour is comparatively high.
Dong Li further said that the passage of National Employment Policy, National Education Policy, National Youth Policy, National Social Protection Policy and National Policy on the Elimination of Child Labour and Bonded Labour, all have contributed in the progress of Pakistan in the labour field.
He said that gender equality is a cross cutting and prioritised objective of all the country programmes of ILO. “In a recent project aimed at enhancing the quality and quantity of women’s employment in Pakistan, the ILO along with Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) trained 450 women in viable skills to cater to the requirements of garment industry. “It is notable that 90 per cent of the trained women are now employed in garment industry,” he said.
Talking about the issue of Women Home Based Workers (WHBW), he said that though no officials figures are available about the exact number of home based workers, according to NGO estimate there are around 8.5 million HBW in Pakistan. “With the support of ILO and UNIFEM, Pakistan has prepared the draft of the first ever policy on Home Based Workers that has been delivered to Ministry of Labour and Manpower.”
Terming it a big step forward for the welfare of home based workers, Dong Li also congratulated Sindh Assembly for being the first provincial assembly to adopt the policy. To introduce them with the implementation of HBW policies, he said that the ILO is organising a study trip of stakeholders both at federal and provincial level in Pakistan to the Philippines where the government has successfully taken the HBWs in the circle of social welfare system.
About the activities of ILO in flood affected areas, he said that the ILO was among the first few agencies to start the Cash-for-Work programme in flood affected areas in September. “The programme was started from Peshawar and Nowshera for creating around 10,000 days of work for flood-affected men and women. “With the arrival of new funding, the project is going to create additional 43,000 days of work for flood-affected men and women in various productive activities,” the country director said.
He said that Cash-for-Work activity has been very well received by the flood-affected people as well as the local authorities. “It not only helps in creating immediate short-term employment but also injects cash in the local economy and stimulates local livelihood. In addition to that, it helps flood-affected people in overcoming mental trauma as it engages people in constructive activities for a good 6-8 hours in a day,” he said.
(Published in Daily TheNews Dated 22-11-2010)