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 9 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 percent of the formal and 100 percent 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 organization with archaic and disinterested bureaucrats, using 18th century files, folders, forms, certificates, challaans, photocopies and affidavits has been an utter disaster. It is for an organisation like EOBI that Iqbal had written his famous verse:
جس کھیت سے دہقاں کو میسر نہ ہو روزی
اُس کھیت کے ہر خوشہِ گندم کو جلا دو
The existing EOBI must not just be replaced by a modern, small and completely digitized organization 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 by imagination. Largely restricted to only those formal sector employers who employ more than 5 persons, it deprives almost 60 million workers who work in informal sector, small establishments, self employed or in part-time jobs 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 – regular, temporary or contract.
Third, employers be required to digitally transfer the EOBI contributions, for each employee, mentioning the specific employee’s CNIC number and the amount deposited. Simultaneously the employee must receive an SMS each month to confirm that the latest amount has been deposited and the total amount accumulated so far.
Fourth, The EOBI contribution currently based on 6 percent of the minimum wage, ought to be made consistent for workers across Pakistan. Unlike EHSAS 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 any worker having to apply, fill any form or visit any office.
Express Tribune 17 July 2021