He leaves home at 7 am every morning, for a 12 hour duty that begins at 8 am and ends at 8 pm each day. He must be on duty for 30 straight days every month. There are no holidays in his job. Afterall the homes and businesses of the rich elite cannot be left unprotected on holidays. In return he receives Rs.12,000 per month, often 15 days beyond the 1st of every month. He is registered neither with Social Security nor with the Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI). A day’s sickness means he will lose the salary for that day. He struggles to sustain his wife and four kids and to pay the rent of a one room shelter. He lives on the fringes of life – if at all ‘living’ may be used to describe his painful existence. He is seen as a private security guard, but in reality he is a “Modern-day slave”.
Modern slavery is the severe exploitation of helpless people for personal or commercial gain. It is estimated that there are over 300,000 security guards and over 1,000,000 janitors who are employed by private security companies and manpower contractors in Pakistan. They provide security and janitorial services to large government and private organisations, who find this arrangement convenient and economical. Having paid a lump sum to the contractor, they consider themselves absolved of any further obligation towards the contracted employees. In turn the contractors enslave the desperately needy, paying them pittance and not contributing towards their EOBI or Social Security.
Paying less than legal minimum wage and not registering the employees with EOBI and Social Security is an offence routinely committed by numerous other sectors as well. Hundreds of petrol pump stations and thousands of private schools unabashedly fall in this category. This day-light robbery inflicted on the poorest of the poor remains unchecked because of the complicity of the labour ministries, labour directorates and the Minimum Wage Boards.
Pakistan’s federal EOBI and provincial Social Security departments have essentially become dysfunctional budget-guzzling white elephants. Of a workforce of nearly 73 million workers in Pakistan, just about 8 million are registered with EOBI, while only 0.65 million out of over 15 million workers of Sindh are registered with Social Security (SESSI). Could there be a more painful reflection of neglect for the wellbeing of our down-trodden citizens.
Pakistan’s recent request for a $600 million World Bank loan to strengthen the old age benefits and social security net of its workers is entirely ill-advised, unnecessary and wasteful. Instead Pakistan ought to streamline and reform its existing EOBI, Social Security and Labour departments. They ought to be headed by competent and honest leaders who can ensure that 100 % workforce is registered with EOBI, Social Security and paid at least the minimum legal wages. The EOBI contribution currently based on Rs.8,000 in Sindh, Rs.13,000 in Punjab and Rs.17,500 in KPK ought to be made consistent for workers across Pakistan. Salaries to workers ought to be paid through banking channels to eliminate the rampant “middleman mischief”.
Pakistan could adopt the Kenyan model, where every citizen above the age of 18 is required to be registered with NSSF, a Kenyan equivalent of our EOBI. This scheme enables even the self-employed individuals to contribute towards their pension and health plans. The entire process of registration and payment is digitized and all transactions can be easily made by using a cell phone. Starting with linking every worker’s EOBI and Social Security with NADRA, Pakistan should enable even the self-employed individuals to make voluntary contributions in order to avail old age benefits.
Pakistan has badly let down its poor. It does not make sense to initiate alternate high-visibility vaccines like ‘BISP’, ‘Ehsas’, and WB loans while the already existing mechanisms of minimum wage, EOBI and Social security registration remain so highly dysfunctional. Can Pakistan’s rulers and elite get rid of their sinful addiction to modern-day slavery?