The brick kiln industry in Faisalabad pays workers, on average, 41% below the minimum amount that they would be required to pay under the Punjab government’s rules.
While Punjab’s labour laws dictate that workers be paid Rs517.70 per 1,000 bricks, most workers report receiving far less. Muhammad Talib and Yaqoob Ali, two brick kiln labourers in Faisalabad, say they receive between Rs280 and Rs330 per 1,000 bricks.
The situation is slightly better for labourers making tiles, but even they are severely underpaid. The Punjab government’s rules dictate that the labourers must be paid Rs612.50 per 1,000 tiles, but labourers report being paid between Rs350 and Rs450 per 1,000 tiles.
The most underpaid are truck and tractor drivers, who are given an average monthly salary of Rs5,000 despite the provincial labour laws mandating a Rs9,717 for every 26 days of work, according workers in the industry.
When asked about the situation, Punjab government officials acknowledge the problem, but claim they cannot take any action unless the labourers themselves lodge a complaint.
“This is a weakness of the labour laws that we cannot take action until we receive a formal complaint,” said Muhammad Saeed Dhillon, a senior officials at the Punjab labour department.
Yet some labourers claim they have filed petitions with the government, asking to be paid at the mandated rates. The persistence of underpayments, however, suggests that their complaints have not yet been acted upon.
“We find it difficult to make ends meet,” said Muhammad Talib. Yet instead of being embarrassed by the chronic problem of poorly paid labourers in their industry, owners of brick kilns seem far more incensed by the government’s decision to remove their tax exemptions and forced them to pay a 16% sales tax on all of their products. “If the government does not reverse its decision to impose taxes on us, we will resort to suspending our labour force, and the responsibility of the thousands of people unemployed as a result will fall on the government,” said Adnan Jutt, the owner of the Ashraf Brick Kiln in Faisalabad.
The government has so far refused to give in to the industry’s demands.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2011.
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