Labor Day: Minimum Wage ‘Raised’ to Rs. 7000

Posted on May 1, 2010
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Economy & Development, Society
22 Comments
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Adil Najam

I write this post on May 1. Labor Day in most of the world.

We have written about workers and work, and about labor Day before. It is a good day to celebrate, because every day should be labor day. It is also good that the government made a big deal of this being Labor Day, that it used it to make high profile and visible political proclamations, and that it used it as an appropriate occasion on which to announce its new labor policy.

All of this is good. It is also good that the labor policy does focus on substantive provisions, including those for social insurance and old age benefits (even if on a voluntary basis). The center-piece of the new policy, and today’s big headline, is that the minimum wage has been increased for Rs. 6000 per month to Rs. 7000 per month.

Let us first establish one thing. The fact that the government has done this is good. It is clearly a step in the right direction. Well done.

Now, lets please take a moment to think about what this means.

What does it mean for someone – one assumes with a family, even if a small one – to live on Rs. 7000 per month? I do not think that this question, or its answer, needs any further elaboration from me. If you are on this site, called All Things Pakistan, you should be able to calculate an answer. And having done so, you should sit back in shock, and maybe even a little shame. I am doing that right now!

First, let me deal with the issue of shame. The fact of the situation is that nearly all government employees, even the most menial ones, get paid well above minimum wage. This is why there is line of constituents outside every MNA’s and MPA’s office wanting government jobs. Most government jobs, even low paying ones, actually have relatively decent benefits.

I know I will get flack for this, so let me be clear. I know very well that lots of government employees are paid abysmally. What we pay our teachers or policemen, for example, is a disgrace. And it is partly because of that disgrace that we get the further disgrace of increased corruption, incompetence, and professional uninterest. That is a serious and compelling problem. But a very different problem.

We are talking about those on “minimum wage” here. And the exposition of our own shame. Those who are at or near minimum wage are nearly entirely private employees, and a very large proportion of them are household employees and domestic help. Cooks, gardeners, sweepers, and other types of domestic help; in many cases children. Others are employed by small business, often under terms that are not just criminal, but inhuman – for example, workers in brick kilns.

Much as we are fond of blaming everything on governments, the shame in these cases is often our own. And the least we can do on May Day is to confront this shame, and acknowledge it.

Let me now come to the issue of shock. One of the earliest posts we did when ATP was first launched was on the (then) new Rs. 5000 banknote. It is a post that I still think a lot about. The point simply was that with the advent of the Rs. 5000 note, you could actually pay someone who would be considered as having a ‘good’ job (e.g., domestic help, even a driver at that time) his or her entire month’s salary in just one bank note. Here comes the shock – imagine that you work hard for a whole month, and at the end of it you are paid your entire salary for that month’s worth of work in just one banknote. Take a minute to think of what that would make you feel like! And what would make that feel about the worth of your work. And your own worth. Just think!

It is good that the minimum wage has been raised to Rs. 7000. But let us consider that this still means that someone can be paid for an entire month’s worth of work in two banknotes now – and then asked to return the “change”! Let us also consider that many Pakistanis will continue to work at less than this minimum wage. And also that nearly all of these Pakistanis will be paid this inhuman wage for their labor, not by anyone in the “government” but by other “ordinary” Pakistanis like ourselves.

And that is why I pause at reading the news and I sit back – in shock and in shame.

Tou qadir-e-mutlaq hai, magar tairay jahaN meiN
HaiN talkh bohat banda-e-mazdoor kay auqaat
– Iqbal

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22 responses to “Labor Day: Minimum Wage ‘Raised’ to Rs. 7000”

  1. SadafFayyaz says:

    I wanted to ask something. How can I mail the writer?

  2. Ather Sohail says:

    Its very good or the low income people to have some thing risen in their salary / wages. NO government can do every thing for low income masses its the equal responsibility of people to help the needy and poor in their surrounding areas.

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