#LabourDay: Is Pakistan doing enough for its labourers?

Published: May 1, 2015
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On a serious note, the working labour class, particularly in Pakistan, has not experienced any progress regarding their standard of living.

International Labour Day is being celebrated today almost everywhere around the world in various ways – some enjoy their holiday at home; some people celebrate it by organising rallies, while television channels arrange special talk shows and programs for paying tribute to the labourers.

But the question is, should that be it?

What is the working class labourer getting out of all these celebrations? What benefits are they receiving from rallies and talk shows?

The amusing part is that the actual labourers don’t even get a holiday on Labour Day, let alone its benefits. I mean, they are paid a tribute; what else could they want? They can buy food, clothes, a house or anything they desire with this tribute, right?

Wrong. This tribute is worthless for them.

The working labour class, particularly in Pakistan, has not experienced any progress regarding their standards of living. In other words, progress towards roti, kapra and makaan has been zilch. A working class labourer can hardly afford a proper meal thrice a day for their family.

In June 2014, the federal government raised the minimum wage of unskilled labourers from Rs10,000 to Rs12,000. This increment is applicable to labourers working in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). The Sindh Government raised the minimum wage from Rs10,000 to Rs11,000 while the Government of Balochistan decided to keep the minimum wage at Rs9,000.

There are two crucial points to ponder over from the aforementioned figures – what will the increment add to the labourers’ lives, keeping in mind the soaring inflation rates, and secondly, even if the government claims that they are listening to the plight of the labourers, are all the unskilled labourers employed under the government and private sectors receiving this minimum wage?

If I am not wrong, a sweeper is considered to be an unskilled labourer, and as far as I can recall, they get paid Rs4,000 to Rs5,000 per month.

Can you imagine how it feels to clean roads early in the morning on a cold winter’s day? Or sweating under the scorching sun in the summer? It is not only the sweepers but also the working class labourers who work in drastic and horrible working conditions. Sadly, they are not even compensated for half of the work they do.

While talking about workplace conditions, we must not forget the Baldia Town fire incident in 2012. The lack of safety measures took the lives of 300 labourers. I must sound so naïve ranting about minimum wage, when we fail to provide basic and rightful safety measures to our workers.

There are various issues that need be addressed and solved in order to provide a decent life worth living for our labourers. But the problem is who will address these issues seriously without seeking benefits for themselves?

I apologise if someone is offended by my statement but the so-called social workers have fallen short of providing any ease or facility to the working class population of our country. All they can do is organise rallies which promote their respective organisation and add value to their PR.

For God’s sake, please stop already. If you cannot do anything substantial for them, try not to raise their hopes.

Are we actually incapable of doing something for the people who serve us in one way or another? Will our labourers continue to be oppressed by the capitalists in our society?

Yes, we do have a capitalist society in which labourers are being suppressed to maintain their exclusivity of power.

We can and we must do something, because if we do not do our part of the job, then we must get ready to face the music. The under-paid labourers will definitely resort to unethical means to fulfil their needs and our country cannot afford an increase in crime rates and terrorism.

Instead of organising rallies, the organisations and individuals must address these issues with the concerned authorities. Strong labour unions must be established, the representatives should not be waderas (feudal) or influential persons. Representatives must be from the same class as the labourers who can empathise with their problems.

Above all, our government must realise that if they want progress in our country, they need to take steps which will increase productivity and the only way to increase the productivity is to increase the satisfaction level of a worker. A satisfied worker means more productivity and less corruption.

Our government must realise that one-day holidays to mark the efforts of a labourer is not an apt tribute to our labourers. They must be paid a tribute in the shape of substantial pay, shelter, workplace safety, and the promise of a good life.

Let’s celebrate this day by doing something that will actually be a decent tribute to our labourers.

Rushna Khalil

Rushna Khalil

She is an MBA from IBA Sukkur. A former foreign exchange officer at MCB Bank, she also works as a freelance writer and blogger. She tweets as @rushna_khalil (twitter.com/rushna_khalil)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.