FOR decades, Labour Day has been observed all over the world on May 1 in memory of the Chicago workers who were killed by police while striking for an eight-hour workday in 1886.
But for much of Pakistan, particularly daily-wage workers, today is just any other day.
Whether it is the garment workers bent over machines in factories, the farmers toiling under the harsh glare of the sun in open fields, the construction workers scaling high-rise buildings with minimal safety equipment, or the coal miners scavenging deep inside the depths of mountains, labour and human life come cheap in this country.
Despite the global eight-hour shift, many labourers end up working 12 to 16 hours, some without receiving overtime.With the economy in poor shape and inflation spiking, and as various industries are gripped with layoffs and pay cuts, and unions have lost the power they once held, there seems to be little respite in the near future for those who earn their livelihood through their labour.
As we wait for the federal budget to be announced, the minimum wage is expected to be increased. However, it remains to be seen whether the figure announced will keep the current socioeconomic indicators, such as the family average and consumer price index in mind.
And even when the minimum wage is increased, it takes months for the wage boards to issue the notification. Also, let’s not forget poor implementation, as many workers are not even paid the minimum.
There are countless others, too, hired as domestic or unskilled labourers who come under the category of ‘informal’ work. Pakistan is signatory to a number of international labour laws, but these do not include this large ‘invisible’ workforce.
Instead, informal economy workers are left at the mercy of their employers’ temperaments.
Additionally, there are no labour laws monitoring the agriculture sector, which employs around 65m people and witnesses some of the worst forms of labour exploitation, including modern-day slavery practices in the shape of debt bondage.
According to the Global Slavery Index, there were over 3m people bonded labourers in Pakistan in 2018. Children continue to be employed in these sectors, helping their parents meet ends, instead of attending school.
A state that ignores its workers’ rights will be confronted with a labour force that is physically and mentally exhausted. And that will take a toll on productivity.