The poorest of the poor

The underclass in Swat is worse off than elsewhere.


Fazal Khaliq May 05, 2011

SWAT: Militancy, violence and then floods, labourers in Swat have been dealing with one challenge after another. Work opportunities have dwindled, forcing labourers to work on lower wages than elsewhere, and even then many are forced to go back home without work, and money.

But the situation did not deter hundreds of labourers from different parts of the valley from rallying for their rights on Sunday. They held placards and banners, inscribed with their demands for labour rights.

The rally passed through the various bazaars of Mingora and ended at Tehsil Muncipal Administration Mingora, where a huge meeting had been organised by Swat Labour Union.

“We are here today to honour the sacrifices of the workers in Chicago. They shed their blood to win rights for their labourer brothers across the world,” said Gul Bar, president of the union.

Union Chairperson Haji Shamsher Ali said that the elite class lead luxurious lives in Pakistan but there are no facilities for the poor. “Labourers have always been exploited -- the elite openly exploit their rights by different means,” he said.

The labourers resolved to show solidarity with each other and reiterated their determination to fight for their rights. “We are aware of our rights and will never bow down before these exploiting elements,” said Union Patron-in-Chief Akhtar Ayub.

“We have broken the chains of slavery and can raise our voice against exploitation. Labourers are the backbone of a industrial country’s economy,” he added.

The government has set Rs7,000 as the minimum wage in Pakistan, but few in the private sector follow it. The situation in Swat is even worse, especially after the militancy and floods, where many were deprived of every basic facility and forced to live on cripplingly low wages.

“The ever-increasing prices of daily-use items have paralysed us. It is impossible to make ends meet with what little we get,” said Rahim, a labourer.

Iqbal, another labourer, told The Express Tribune, “The situation is unbearably bad for us; we cannot educate our children and have no recourse for health. I fear the time is nearing when most of us will commit suicide out of compulsion.”

Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2011.

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