World Labour Day: The working man’s bitter reality

The worldwide celebration of Labour Day marks no improvement in the lives of Pakistani labourers.



ISLAMABAD/RAWALPINDI:


The sky rocketing inflation in Pakistan has all but broken the back of the working class, many of whom can not even afford the very basic necessities of life such as food and shelter any more.


International Labour Day, celebrated every year on May 1, is aimed at recognising the rights of labourers and acknowledging their social and economic achievements.

But for those in Pakistan, things do not seem to be improving. According to the Free and Fair Election Network’s Retail Price Monitor for the month of April, as many as 29 consumer commodities including fruits, potato, rice and vegetable ghee registered an average increase of 8 per cent during the month, as compared to March.

Aslam Khan, a resident of Chattar, is a daily wage worker to whom life seems meaningless. He feels paralysed as he is unable to find work on most days and, thus, finds it very hard to feed his family of six daughters, one son and a wife.

“I have been looking for work for the past two months. Every morning I go out with the hope that today I might find something but I return home empty handed,” Khan told The Express Tribune.

At Khan’s previous workplace, the constructor stopped work as the prices of the material had increased surreptitiously making the continuation of construction economically unfeasible. “First we used to eat daal and raw onion but we cannot afford that now.

Now when we have nothing to eat, we collect discarded vegetables from the nearby grocery shop and boil
them in lots of water to make three meals for a day,”
said Khan.

To sustain the household, his daughters are forced to work as domestic servants, earning a paltry Rs4,000-5,000 per month.”My daughters are now of marriageable age but my wife does not get them wedded as we are dependent on their earnings,” he added.

One of his daughters, who wanted to become a medical doctor, was forced to quit her studies in wake of the family’s worsening economic situation.”It was like a nightmare when my mother asked me to quit studies, took away my books and handed me a broom,” said Zubedia Khan.

She has been doing domestic work for the last ten years. Over the hears her health has worsened due to hard work and malnutrition.”In the past year or two, I cannot remember a single time when we ate seasonal fruit or meat,” she added.

Hameedullah, 20, is a daily wage worker who came to Rawalpindi all the way from Mohmand Agency to earn money. Every morning, he carries his tools to Peshawar Mor in search of work. “I wanted to continue studying but our financial situation forced me to quit,” he said, adding, “Some days I get work but inflation has drastically cut work opportunities and I have to return home empty handed most of the time.”

He hardly makes Rs5000 in a month, from which he has to pay the rent of his room, buy food and send money to his family in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. “When I am out of money, I spend the night on the road and starve,” he said.

Railway Workers Union President Jamil Raja said, “Labourers have been fighting for their rights since the inception of Pakistan but they are still as deprived as ever.” He said the incumbent government’s slogans of ‘Roti, Kapra aur Makan’ have been nothing but empty words, clearly proved by the government’s failure to implement the Rs7,000 minimum monthly wages, as announced by the prime minster in the past.

Zahoor Khan, a representative of Pakistan Trade Union Federation said, “Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the founder of PPP, was a true supporter of the working class but, unfortunately, the present government has failed to continue his efforts by adopting anti-labour policies.”

Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2011.

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