In Pakistan, daily-wage earners await release of relief funds

Finance secretary says govt working on mechanism to reach out to labourers

Salman Siddiqui March 29, 2020

KARACHI: This is the seventh day of lockdown and the fifth day since Prime Minister Imran Khan announced a package worth Rs200 billion for labourers, especially for the daily-wage earners, however, the relief package has so far just remained on paper.

“When we will be asked to release funds (for the labourers) we will do,” remarked Finance Secretary Naveed Kamran Baloch while talking to The Express Tribune on Saturday.

When The Express Tribune asked queries from officials in the Ministry of Finance, Planning Commission, Ministry of Information and industrialists in the private sector about the mechanism to reach out to the labourers and when the labourers would receive the relief of Rs3,000 each, their replies indicated that they were still at the preliminary stage of planning.

Daily-wage earners like factory workers, construction labourers, plumbers, carpenters, painters, rickshaw and taxi drivers are the worst hit people of society in the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement of the package had suggested that the government would reach out to the labourers on a war footing.

Construction labourers, while sitting on a sandy pavement in a Karachi locality along with their tools waiting to get work to earn bread and butter for their families, said many of them had not received a single client in the past four to five days.

PM Imran earlier said one-fourth of the country’s population of over 200 million lived below the poverty line and there were a minimum seven million daily-wage earners who would be paid Rs3,000 each to cope with the situation in these difficult times.

“We are working on a mechanism to reach out to the labourers,” Baloch said.

The allocated funds would be disbursed to the targeted labourers in collaboration with provinces, provincial ministries of industries and commerce. “All the stakeholders including the industrialists and associations will be on board so that the disbursement of funds could be managed properly and maximum number of labourers gets the benefit,” he added.

The government has announced several relief packages worth billions of rupees to protect industries and has instructed businessmen to keep all workers during these difficult times instead of laying them off.

Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) President Anjum Nisar said there had so far been no communication between the government and the industrialists for the implementation of the plan of releasing relief funds for the labourers.

“We are awaiting information as to how and when the plan will be executed,” he said.

Independent analysts have raised questions about the government’s mechanism to reach out to the labourers as there is no database available to connect with them.

A majority of the seven million daily-wage earners have no bank accounts.

Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s former president Anjum Nisar said the government should increase the size of the fund for the poor segment of society, Ehsaas programme and the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).

“This may work as the government has established a database of the needy people,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2020.

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