Millions of labourers struggle amid Covid-19 lockdown in Pakistan

Published: May 1, 2020
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PHOTO: REUTERS

PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI: Hundreds of charged labourers, including women, gathered outside a garment factory in the eastern district of Pakistan’s commercial capital Karachi to protest against their forced layoff only a week before the International Labour Day.

They, in fact, came to receive their salaries but they were verbally informed that the factory no longer required their services due to the financial losses caused by a lingering lockdown imposed by the government to curb the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

A few kilometres away, another demonstration was held outside a famous textile company, which also laid off hundreds of labourers citing the same reason.

“It’s happening all over Pakistan [nowadays]. Labourers, especially daily wagers, and contract employees are being laid off without any notice,” said Shamsur Rehman Swati, President of National Labour Federation (NLF), a conglomerate of different labour unions in Pakistan.

“Every day, hundreds of labourers are being laid off across the country since the government imposed the lockdown last month,” Swati told Anadolu Agency.

The massive layoffs coincide with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s call for not firing the employees during the coronavirus pandemic.

The government has recently announced incentives for the private companies which will not fire their employees due to the ongoing economic slowdown. However, according to the labour unions, thousands of labourers have been fired in the last two months in the country. In addition, the government has launched Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme to provide financial assistance of Rs12,000 to around 12 million families affected by the coronavirus crisis.

Pakistan has been under lockdown since last month and will continue until May 9 as the country reported a total of 15,759 confirmed cases of Covid-19, including 346 deaths so far.

Different Labour Day

According to the Ministry of Planning, 12.3 million to 18.5 million Pakistanis will lose their jobs, whereas the economy will suffer a colossal loss of Rs2-2.5 trillion due to “moderate to severe shocks from the coronavirus outbreak.”

Informal labourers – which according to labour unions account for 75% of the country’s total 65 million workforce – will be the worst hit.

Around 40% of them are in the agriculture sector, while the remaining work in services, manufacturing and other sectors, according to the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), a non-governmental think tank, which deals with labour affairs.

“These informal labourers are not registered anywhere. They do not have any social security or legal cover. Millions of them will lose their jobs, I fear,” Karamat Ali, Secretary of Pakistan Labour Council and Executive Director of Piler, told Anadolu Agency.

The Labour Day is going to miss the traditional fanfare this year due to the coronavirus lockdown.

“This will be a completely different Labour Day as the labourers never faced situation like this. On the one hand, they are facing unemployment and hunger, while on the other, a deadly disease like coronavirus,” Ali observed.

There will be no rallies, seminars and other public gatherings to mark the day for the first time in the country’s 72-year history.

“We are not worried about that. We are worried about millions of our labourers, who have already been laid off or are going to lose their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis,” Ali maintained.

Swati said “Pakistani labourer today is not thinking about the May Day. He is more worried about the hunger looming on him and his family due to unemployment.”

Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2020.

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