Surabhi Kumar and Aoun Abbas
This double interview was held with:
Ms Surabhi Kumar, Senior Assistant Editor, The Hindu Business Line, New Delhi
Mr Aoun Abbas, Bureau Chief Islamabad, News, Channel 24, Central Media Network, Islamabad
Could you introduce yourself?
My name is Surabhi Kumar and I work for The Hindu Business Line in New Delhi. I am a business journalist and I write on policies related to finance, economy, labour markets. I wanted to be a journalist to have the opportunity to write about issues that no one would actually like to write about and also to produce interesting news for my readers.
My name is Aoun Abbas, I am a journalist based in Islamabad, and I work for Channel 24, Central Media Network, as Bureau Chief. I am also a special correspondent for the LA India Times. I became a journalist because I wanted to become the voice of the voiceless and I wanted to mainstream the issue of labour, as all social issues are close to my heart.
Why did you decide to participate in this training in Turin?
I applied for this course because I write about labour markets and labour reforms and in the last few years India has been trying to reform laws that are more than 100 years old and there are lots of claims made by unions and the government against each other. I hope this course will give me an international perspective, as well as knowledge of best practices and standards, which I can incorporate into my stories.
I had this opportunity to review subjects I had covered in my earlier studies. But the main reason was that I wanted to gain an international perspective, make new friends from all over the world, identify new ideas for my stories, get new experiences from new colleagues to apply on my return home, to enable me to make my news more relevant and more up-to-date.
As a journalist, what are the most important and difficult issues concerning labour in your country?
Labour issues are being debated in my country, especially by trade unions and they give good advice to workers. An issue not sufficiently debated is child labour. The government is working on new amendments to completely ban child labour up to the age of 14, as all children have the right to go to school. I think this is the most important issue, because there is nothing worse than taking a child away from his/her childhood.
In Pakistan we have all types of labour issues, from child labour to domestic work, and anything you could name is there. In my opinion, the most pressing issue is that we have laws that are not applied, in spite of the fact that we have the instruments to have them applied. For instance, all the work accidents that we hear about happen to workers without contracts, social security, and who are paid two dollars per day. They are working the whole day and are left below the poverty line. From the records, it appears that these laws are implemented in this field, even though there are 450 factories and not a single trade union, and there is also no labour inspection. What concerns me is the government’s lack of seriousness in implementing laws, mainly because too many authorities are responsible and the laws are too complex.
As you write about these issues, what have your personal achievements and failures been?
Personally, I think that the media in India have a very important role to play and newspapers are taken very seriously. My news stories give people the opportunity to debate and deliberate on issues such as child labour, minimum wages, and most importantly consultation between workers and employers in order for the government to go ahead with any kind of legislation and policy measures.
This question is very tough, since labour inspection and child labour are very close to my heart. My first story back in June 2003 was on child labour, and this issue is still going on and I see this as a kind of failure. Government and society are not reacting, and I feel that I had to report on this and I did. Therefore this is both a failure and a success. What I can say is that I will keep reporting these issues and they are near to my heart.
What did you learn this week and what will be helpful for you on your return to your country?
I understood India is lagging behind on a number of labour market policies and reforms, and even if my country wants to be a manufacturing hub for the rest of the world, it cannot be so without having the best labour practices. In fact, only if you have good labour practices, your labour productivity improves and I hope I can use some of my training and knowledge in my reporting and make my readers in India more aware of what is happening around us.
I have learnt so many new things. I met so many new cultures and I have learnt about this new - for me - complex system of the ILO. Being a journalist, I was given the opportunity to have an insight into the work of the ILO, and so many of the questions I had before coming have already been answered. Before coming here in fact, I was unclear about the role of Conventions, for instance. Now I see it as a legal obligation for member states to apply them. I definitely learnt so many new things that were for me real eye-openers. Besides new friends, I can contact international experts, and this will make me write stories that are more neutral, and with a different perspective. From now on, before writing a new story, I will check the ILO convention and if it has been ratified by Pakistan. It has been a kind of package for me: friend, experts, new ideas, fun and Turin.