The arrival of the slave ship in 1619, carrying 20 odd enslaved Africans in the British Colony of Virginia, marked the beginning of two and a half centuries of slavery in North America. Five hundred years later, we witness an equally harsh continuum of modern-day slavery of some 90 million workers in Pakistan. Far more sophisticated and subtle, this new version is based on daily waterboarding-like torture intended to socially, economically and physically exploit and asphyxiate its victims. Sadly, this cruel system is designed to pamper the endless self-indulgence of our own rich and greedy elite.
Pakistan is the only country in the world, where half of its workers are paid less than minimum legal wage and 90% are deprived of old-age benefits. The Employees Old-age Benefits Institution (EOBI) recently confirmed that it has only nine million registered employees on its roll. This simply means that we have created a death trap for the remaining 81 million workers who will not receive a single penny as they enter their twilight years. Likewise, only 133,619 employers are registered with EOBI, leaving out 70% of the formal and 100% of the informal sector employers from making any EOBI contribution. Ironically, even the thinking Pakistanis support this slavery by opting to remain silent. There are at least six structural defects that need to be eliminated in order to provide EOBI benefit to every worker of Pakistan.
First, the attempt to operate a modern EOBI organisation with archaic and disinterested bureaucrats, using 18th century files, forms, certificates, challans, photocopies and affidavits has been an utter disaster.
The existing EOBI must not just be replaced by a modern, small and completely digitised organisation but be also directly linked to NADRA’s database. A few persons sitting in one office should be able to monitor within minutes if the EOBI contribution of any CNIC holder in Pakistan has been deposited or not.
Second, Pakistan’s EOBI is limited by design as well as imagination. Largely restricted to only those formal sector employers who employ more than five persons, it deprives almost 60 million workers who work in the informal sector, small establishments, self-employed part-time workers such as maids, guards, gardeners, mechanics, waiters, helpers, etc. The scope of EOBI must be expanded to include every citizen above the age of 18 years, regardless of the employer or the nature of job, be it regular, temporary or contractual.
Third, employers should be required to digitally transfer the EOBI contributions, for each employee, mentioning the employee’s CNIC number and the amount deposited. Simultaneously, the employee must receive an SMS each month to confirm the latest amount has been deposited and the total amount accumulated so far.
Fourth, the EOBI contribution currently based on 6% of the minimum wage, ought to be made consistent for workers across Pakistan. Unlike EHSAAS and BISP, the government does not need to spend a penny to provide EOBI to every Pakistani.
Fifth, the new EOBI system ought to have built-in mechanisms for rapidly responding to situations where an employer fails to make a timely deposit. Any worker should be able to SMS or call a workers’ helpline to report an employer’s failure to do the needful. The state must respond immediately and take exemplary action.
And finally, even for the miniscule minority of 10% workers who are included in the current EOBI scheme, receiving their pension is an unspeakable torture. It is proposed that the pension be replaced by workers receiving the entire collected amount as a lumpsum on the day of retirement. This must be done by an automatic bank transfer of the entire amount without the worker having to apply, fill any form or visit any office.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2021.
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