Overworked and underpaid: Story of the average labourer

Home-based workers voice their agitation over low-income for manual labour.

Sehrish Wasif April 23, 2011


It is not easy for Samia Bibi, 35, to run her house on a meager Rs500 per month.

Her husband passed away a year ago, making her the sole breadwinner for her family of four children and a sick mother-in-law. “It becomes impossible to cover expenses with such small amount of money,” she said while talking to The Express Tribune.

Samia is a home-based worker from Gari Habibullah, who does embroidery on bed sheets, some of which take almost a month to complete after which she gets Rs500.

Like her, other home-based workers from the country gathered at the second annual general meeting of SAARC Business Association for Home-based workers (Sabah Pakistan) on Friday. They expressed dissatisfaction over getting meagre sums of money for their handiwork. They also demanded for more training programmes to further improve their skills.

Sabah Pakistan is a non- profit trade facilitation center shared and owned by home-based women workers and organisations. It was established in Pakistan with the financial support of SAARC Development Fund.

Home-based workers from Sukkur, Quetta, Mansehra, Haripur, Bahawalpur and Abbottabad said they work hard but are not paid enough, which demoralises them.

Bushra Bibi from Haripur wanted to study but could not pursue due to financial constraints.

“I started working as a home-based worker to bear my own expenses and not depend on my brothers,” said Bushra said.

She earns Rs1000 for doing embroidery work on one kurta, which takes two months to complete.

“The type of embroidery I do is really tough. Sometimes my eyes get strained but I have no option but to do this to earn a living,” she said.

Uzma Bibi from Haripur earns Rs600-700 and finds it difficult to support her husband financially, who is a washer man.

“We have five children who are studying and it becomes difficult to bear their education expenses within our limited earnings,” she said.

A majority of them were unaware where their products are sent after finishing and how much they are sold for.

On the occasion, participants were informed that Sabah received Rs90million, and in last two years spent two third of the amount for the uplift and empowerment of home-based workers.

Sabah-Pakistan Executive Director Nuzhat Tabbasum said the objective of the organisation is to promote the economic uplift of home-based women workers in Pakistan.

“Their work is being exhibited at national and international fashion shows,” she said. Responding to a question, she said home-based workers are being paid according to the set standards and laws.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2011.

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