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

Posted on May 1, 2010
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Economy & Development, Society
Total Views: 26049

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

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

  1. Watan Aziz says:

    There is a real need for real change in ground realities. Now!

    All these other talks are engagements in grandstanding and politically correct talk. They are meant to be a distraction from the core issue of equity and justice.

    So, the question rises, all those who claim to be on the left and all those who claim to be on the right, discuss how to make Pakistan a better place for Mai Jori Jamali and Shazia Mashih? These two, poles apart, represent the weakest of the weak in Pakistan. If the weak of Pakistan can have minimum, then the strong will certainly gain the most.

    I am not interested in labels either. They are a distraction designed to cause hatred and demonize the other. To create divide. To sling insults at one another. It is a tool to create self satisfaction that I am good and the bad is happening because of the other. And the net result is there is no good just bad. With both.

    And these labels are most definitely a tool to distract from the goals of equity and justice.

    I have audacity of hope, with fierce urgency of now.

  2. Amna Zaman says:

    watan aziz. Good one. Nicely done. Ok here is a thing this situation can only be imporved if we promote a tolerant society where understand their position as well. We have to stop misusing the system to our individual benefits and work in the interest of the country.

  3. AD says:

    Irony of such a law in Pakistan is that a poor laborer who is denied his minimum wages does not have the money and power to actually go to a court and win back his share from the employer.

  4. Watan Aziz says:

    Let us see now,

    No I have no written contract with them,
    Yes, they live on my property,
    No, I do not charge them any rent,
    Yes, I loan them money against their future work,
    Yes, their spouses also work for me too,
    Yes, I treat their “very” children nicely,
    Yes, their children may work but I “reward” them,

    So, you are a feudal lord?

    No, I have no lands and live in the city!

    Hmmmmmm, so you are the “urban” feudal lord!

    And this is consistent, regardless of the self-declarations of “religious” or “secular”. Neither understands nor practices the principles they claim they espouse.

    There was only man from the feudal system who was smart (read brilliant) and rose to power, ZAB. I have my opinions about Leghari, but he is the second who came close to understanding what is what. And he is no ZAB. Not even close. ZAB was a class by himself, regardless of what people think about him.

    Folks, Pakistanis have been sold the wrong drink for so long they do not even know which koolade they are drinking.

    It is so convenient to not to accept the responsibility and pass the blame to the uneducated, or to the feudal system. Yes, there are problems to be solved, but only if the educated recognize where the problem is?

    It is the educated but ignorant Pakistanis who are at the heart of the problem. They are the ones who have caused the problems. And, the good news is that it they who will have to step up and solve the problem. And the best news is that they are perfectly capable of doing it.

    So, don’t blame the uneducated. Don’t blame the feudal system.

    Instead, help them.

    But first, let us help ourselves.

  5. Kazmi says:

    Adil, this may be your best blog post ever. Because it makes us think and think about our own actions. This is not just an elite issue or government issue, it is in middle class households where a lot of this abuse happens. So, yes, we should all be shamed as well as shocked.

    By the way, great comment by Ayesha Ijaz Khan.

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