Labour Day: when workers toil and owners rest

Int’l Workers Day highlights the stark contrast between rhetoric and reality

Qaiser Shirazi May 02, 2024


While political parties commemorated the sacrifices of Chicago's workers with protest rallies and tributes, the streets of Rawalpindi witnessed a stark contrast. Labourers, aptly considered the backbone of the economy, toiled silently to feed their families, indifferent to the slogans and fanfare of the day.

Throughout the day, these unsung heroes, with pickaxes, shovels, and paintbrushes in hand, sought work at intersections, roadsides, and commercial hubs. Mehmood Khan, a seasoned labourer at Raja Bazaar’s Fawara Chowk, lamented the systemic ignorance of labour rights despite being the lifeblood of the global economy. "The entire world system runs only because of labour," he emphasised.

Naeem Abbasi, another daily wage earner, criticised the superficiality of May 1 celebrations, where according to him, vested interests dominate the discourse while real issues remain unaddressed. "To gain political interests, fake slogans are raised by wearing cotton suits and vests," Abbasi remarked, highlighting the disconnect between rhetoric and reality.

Nazakat Ali, a labourer at Bani Chowk, echoed these sentiments, questioning the practical impact of labour-themed holidays on workers' lives. "The officers of all institutions have a holiday in the name of labour, and we have been sitting here since morning waiting for employment," Ali stated, underscoring the urgent need for meaningful reforms.

The financial struggles of these labourers were palpable. Painter Naveed Ahmed shared his predicament, earning sporadically and barely making ends meet despite working diligently. "I can earn only Rs1,000 to 1,500 per day," Ahmed bemoaned, reflecting the harsh realities faced by many in the labour force.

Amidst these hardships, Nasir Mujtaba, Secretary General of the Railway Workers Union, highlighted the disparity between official minimum wages and ground realities. "The government has fixed the minimum wage of the labourer at Rs32,000, but today a porter earns only Rs1,000 to Rs1,500 a day at railway stations," Mujtaba pointed out, emphasising the need for wage reform and fair compensation.

The grievances extended beyond financial concerns. Faisal Khan, Khursheed Akbar, and Rashid, awaiting work at Fawara Chowk, voiced frustration at successive governments' failure to address fundamental labour issues. "To date, all governments and political parties have only exploited the workers," they lamented, calling for comprehensive better support systems for workers' families.

Simultaneously, political parties and labour organisations in Rawalpindi staged grand rallies in honour of International Workers' Day. Leaders from various unions and federations reiterated demands for wage hikes, labour law reforms, and protection of workers' rights. Junaid Awan, a union leader, emphasised the government's responsibility to uplift the working class, opposing any moves towards privatisation that could jeopardise labour interests.

The Railway Workers Union orchestrated a significant demonstration, advocating for timely payments and fair treatment within the railway sector.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2024.


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