Labourers’ woes – 01 May 2022

It’s time to own our hapless labourers lest they are consumed by the agonising social plight

Shafeequllah is a labourer associated with the informal construction sector in Kandhkot town of Sindh. His father also worked in the same sector, in the same capacity. When inquired why he couldn’t escape the ancestral trap of poverty, his reply left me shocked and shuddered. “In the toxic society encroached by the capitalistic elite, we have accepted this profession as ordained fate for ourselves and our children. No matter how hard we struggle, our lives would revolve around this disadvantaged rotten cycle,” he muttered.

“In inflationary times when even overnight manual labour cannot generate enough bucks to afford the necessities of food, let alone education and health for the children, dreaming an improvement in standard of living would be self-deception,” Shafeequllah lamented. On asking if he knows the Labour Day is approaching, he replied: “What good the Day do us.”

Quite true! All except the labourers rest on this day. If labourers get off from work, they will have a day without food. As Eid coincides with the Labour Day this year, not working would mean penury or added burden of loans.

Like Shafeequllah’s, the lives of most of the labourers and workers remain miserable. International commitments, constitutional guarantees and pro-labour laws notwithstanding, the poor lot of the workers in Pakistan continues to suffer from worst forms of exploitation and discrimination. Despite tall claims of the successive governments, the life of the labour class remains a tragedy.

An evil nexus – involving labour departments, contractors, industrial owners and their international buyers – keeps the workers deprived of their due rights. Through their influence and gluttonous stake, they obstruct the enforcement of labour laws in their truest spirit. It is reflected among many other things in the slack implementation of minimum wages across the country. Most of the employers don’t care about workers’ welfare. They consider them as fuel and fodder for their riches. They care only about their own profits. Inadequate workers’ training, safety measures and hygiene in factories and other workplaces expose labourers to worst kinds of threats to their health and lives. The irony is that they are compelled to work in unsafe environments with meagre financial returns.

In a stratified and callous society, where only wealth and investments bring more wealth, only the rich gets richer to the detriment of the poor. Laws and policies are manipulated to suit the interests of the propertied class given their unbridled stake in the country’s affairs. Since the socio-economic system favours elite and propertied class, the prospects of upward social mobility for labourers is reduced to naught. Resultantly, the lot of the workers, with meagre wages, lead a compromised life: a life in rages, thatched houses and unfulfilled needs.

Behind all the civilisations across history, it was the blood, sweat and labour of the workers. Despite all that, their efforts are undervalued, underpaid and almost go unacknowledged. Isn’t it a great irony that on their own day, labourers would be working? All else would either spend the day in idleness or boasting in long speeches, made to the elite audience, about championing the cause of labourers at lavishly organised seminars in five-star hotels. Thus the day has turned into a ritualistic occasion. Wouldn’t it be better if the exorbitant amount of money spent on seminars is tunnelled in an honestly established and privately managed ‘labour fund’ aimed at utilising the same for educating the workers’ children? This would help the destitute workers to escape the chronic poverty trap within a generation or two. It’s time to own our hapless labourers lest they are consumed by the agonising social plight.

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