Even on Labor Day, Pakistani workers continue to toil
The sweltering heat and unforgiving temperature wasn’t enough to sway Bahadur Shah from performing his task. Making use of both hands, he dipped the cement from his scraper into the bucket of water placed behind his back, to make the suitable mixture. Once done, he plastered the slimy cement around the base of a pole and went about scraping the edges off, making it a perfect square. His grubby clothes and sweaty brow gave away the fact that he had been long and hard at work, with the bare sun above his head doing its bit to hinder the task he was laboring at.
Rest and respite are something this decrepit laborer is not accustomed to. How can he, with five children and a wife to provide for? As Bahadur continued to provide shape to the base of the pole, he also divulged into the economic woes him and many like him, were currently facing in Pakistan.
“With five mouths to feed, I cannot afford to even take a day off from work. We are laborers, neither educated nor well off. How else am I supposed to feed my family?” he said.
Upon inquiry as to whether the government of the day or any Non-Governmental Organizations had ever provided relief to him, a paroxysm of anger took hold of Bahadur Shah.
“Neither the government nor any organization comes to our aid. We fend for ourselves. Hamari madad sirf Allah karta hai (Only God comes to our aid).”
Before he could further point out the economic woes and financial intricacies he had to deal with as a result of his insufficient daily wage (Rs.500), Bahadur Shah’s supervisor heckled him rudely to concentrate more on his chores, and less on his despondent narrations.
The above case aptly describes the state of affairs Pakistan’s labor class seems to be in. May 1st is marked throughout most countries of the world as a universal day in recognition of labor’s rights and their arduous tasks. Be it factory workers, painters, carpenters, miners or various other daily wage earners, the going has not been good for the lot.
Ironically, Pakistan has been a member of the International Labor Organization since the 1970s. Also, the statuary laws of Pakistan’s constitution also do not shy away from elaborating about the rights of laborers in the country. For example, the ILO’s constitution states that it would undertake the necessary measures to promote among members nations this point:-
Policies in regard to wages and earnings, hours and other conditions of work calculated to ensure a just share of the fruits of progress to all, and a minimum living wage to all employed and in need of such protection.
Most of the labor in Pakistan are employed at a minute and meager wage of Rs.300 per hour, at the most rupees four hundred. Coupled with that, they have to perform tasks that might prove to be injurious to health.
The soaring inflation as well as dismal financial condition of the state has proved to be burdensome for the poor beyond measure. Even so much so that child labor is on the rise in Pakistan, where children are forced to labor for scraps rather than pick up a pen. Irfan Ali is one such example, a 9 year old who works tirelessly at a tyre shop in Karachi for an astounding 12 hours a day. After learning the basic crafts from his father on how to mend a tyre and lodge it onto a car, he has been earning his bread at such a tender age. Though shy and apprehensive at first, the fascination with the camera was enough to indulge the boy and make him spill the beans about himself.
“I was taught how to mend a punctured tyre by my father. Ever since I learnt the tricks of the trade, I have been earning bread for my family by working almost 12 hours a day.”
When asked as to why he didn’t attend school, Irfan presented the obvious quandary he was in.
“I can either go to school and my family will starve or work and feed them as well as myself.”
And with that concise yet concrete statement, he went about tightening the screws on a tyre he was working on.
Much needs to be done in the Islamic Republic, for upholding the rights of these poor workers and laborers. Time is of the essence and Pakistan seems to be running out of it. On this day, labor unions, NGO’s and governmental organizations are bound to conduct seminaries and take out processions in favor of laborers. However, on ground, these daily wage earners brave hardships with none willing to offer them a helping hand or comforting shoulder. The government of the day must ensure concrete steps in providing them with jobs that are less hazardous in nature and more technical, as well as more rewarding.
The government along with NGOs, must join hands in order to inculcate and implement policies that clamp down on child labor. Policies such as educating children, securing less hourly jobs for them so that they can then in turn attend school and provide them with loans. Also, hostile elements that tend to hold the city hostage through strikes should be reined in, as these poor workers and laborers are unable to feed their children for the day.