Toiling under the sun for hours, Gul Nabi, while lifting bricks at a construction site in Saidu Sharif, said he had never even heard about Labour Day. “I know about Independence Day, Quaid-i-Azam Day and Eid Miladun Nabi; I have no clue about any other important day,” he shrugged.
When told about the significance of Labour Day in celebrating the economic and social contributions of workers and addressing their plights, Nabi remarked with anger, “We have been crushed under inflation and miseries. We have no spare time to think about such things.”
“We already know the fate of the people who are neglected, they are crushed each day by the elite class, the governing class,” he added.
Unlike major cities, Swat has no active unions or organisations working for the rights of labours, and workers are given much lower wages and no benefits.
Zahir, 35, a day labourer from Malookabad, said he receives Rs300 per day but on an irregular basis. “During rainy days, it is difficult to make both ends meet,” he said. Although he urged the government to take steps to set and enforce minimum wages and working standards for labourers in Swat, he said that dedicating an entire day and voicing the concerns of workers is a futile exercise.
“Nothing will come out of staging rallies and street processions to observe Labour Day, the government doesn’t care about our issues. We will only be losing a day’s earning,” he said.
A survey of some of the major hotels, workshops and factories in the valley revealed that a majority of their workers are teenagers who are paid much less than adults.
“I am paid Rs200 per day for working from morning to late in the evening,” said Riaz Ahmed, 16. “And if I commit any mistake, I am punished by the owner,” he added in a low voice, as he washed utensils at a tea stall.
In shops, workshops and factories there are no set rules for workers, who are often beaten harshly.
They have no job security and are sacked for menial mistakes.
A 15-year-old worker, who works as a waiter at a hotel in Mingora, said he was discharged from work when he asked the hotel owner to get off early from work. “He made me work from morning till 10pm and did not even pay salary for the last five days,” he added.
Organisations such as Social Security Network, Workers Welfare Funds, and Old Age Benefit Scheme formulated under the labour policy are unknown in Swat valley.
A day labourer of one of the silk mills in the valley, Arbab Alam, said he has been working at the mills for over 20 years but has never heard of labour organisations.
“We only perform our duty and get money in return. Such facilities are either available for workers in big cities or in papers only,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2012.
More in KP & FATAJapanese-funded school inaugurated in Khyber Agency