To become a waiter was not Umair Abbasi’s dream job. The 18-year-old who wanted to pursue education was forced to drop out of school and work to support his family. For three years now, Abbasi has been serving food at Mr Food, a budget eatery in F-6 Markaz. There are no holidays in his 12-hour-working days.
Waiting tables might be a way to earn an extra buck for students in the West, but it is only a means of sustenance for waiters in Pakistan. They work long hours and on wages which don’t even cut their costs.
“We earn so little that all our money is used up in transport fares,” said Ghazanfar Ali, a waiter belonging to Murree. The 22-year-old who quit college to work as a waiter said, “We get paid on commission. On every Rs2,000 sale we make, we earn Rs80. There are days we don’t even make Rs2,000 and get paid less,” said Ali. He said that he got Rs20 to Rs50 as tip daily, which is not enough.
Meanwhile, Mirullah an Afghan immigrant, came to Pakistan in search of greener pastures. “The hours are tough and nature of the job is not rewarding but it’s the only source of easy income in another country,” said the 20-year-old, who wants to save enough to shift to America, where his sister is based. Waiters have to share tips and do not make enough to support their families.
There is no law in place to keep waiters from working beyond a certain time period. Many a time waiters put in extra hours but don’t get overtime or holidays. “Like all the other professions, it is ripe for exploitation at the hands of the employers. From work hours to daily wage everything can be decided to serve the employers,” said Tariq Fazli, an activist. “The worst part is that we don’t see it changing anytime soon,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2012.