Our exploited workforce
What would make a society so immeasurably callous as to happily allow its 73.8 million workforce to be hugely under-paid, exploited, made to work for long hours, kept out of social security net and be prevented from receiving old-age benefits? Of the 73.8 million workers of Pakistan, only about 8 million are registered with Employees Old-age Benefit Institution (EOBI), less than 3 million registered with the four provincial Employees’ Social Security Institutions and about 40 million are paid less than the minimum legal wage defined by law.
About two years back, a number of concerned citizens, supported by Advocate Faisal Siddiqui, approached the Sindh High Court against less than legal minimum wages paid to about 1000 contracted janitors of the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC). After a protracted legal battle, on 10 March 2021, in a landmark judgement ( D-852 of 2019) the Sindh High Court directed the CBC to comply with the minimum wage requirements. A still more important aspect of this judgement is its succinct clarification of the Principal Employer’s responsibility towards those employees who work though contractors, often paid less and almost never included in the EOBI or Social Security schemes.
The Sindh High Court judgment clarified that where an employer retains control over the means and methods by which the work of a contractor is done or where the contractor is directly engaged in performing a company’s work or if the said function is overseen by the supervisors of the company, it may be said that a relationship of employer and employee exists between the Principal Employer and the employees of the contractor. Thus the laws of min wage, EOBI and Social Security are equally applicable to the employees of the contractor as well.
How is it that despite the existence of numerous Labour Departments, Minimum Wage Boards, EOBI and Social Security Institutions, Pakistan fails to provide minimum wage, EOBI and Social Security (SS) to even a small percentage of its workforce. Clearly this situation suggests a major professional and ethical crisis. Pakistan has no option but to shut down, restructure and digitize these dysfunctional departments on modern lines.
Pakistan ought to introduce the following ten fundamental policy changes for its workforce; 1. The salary of every employee, regardless of the nature of work or employer must be paid through banking channels; 2. Wages, EOBI and SS be linked to NADRA records for all workers; 3. The organizational registration be replaced by direct registration of individuals; 4. Every citizen be entitled to voluntarily register with EOBI and SS and make direct self payments; 5. NADRA website must display the EOBI and SS registration number and payment status for all workers; 6. Every employer (in both formal and informal sector) must be required to contribute towards EOBI and SS, even if only one person has been employed; 7. The min wage, EOBI and SS requirements must be applicable to every kind of work and workforce including domestic workers; 8. There must be disproportionately severe punishments for an employer dodging on minimum wages, EOBI or SS; 9. Government should be able to digitally monitor, intervene and ensure the minimum wage, EOBI and SS of every Pakistani; 10. The EOBI contribution, calculated at different rates in different provinces ought to be made consistent for workers across Pakistan.
How many Pakistanis know that every guard of every security company in Pakistan works for 12 hour a day, for 30 continuous days in a month, for wages often grossly less than the defined minimum wage. How come the idea that the poor should have some leisure and some life is so unacceptable and shocking to the rich. How come the state and society have colluded in creating such slave-like work environment, specially for those employed through labour contractors. Should the privileged class not break its unholy silence and speak up for the rights of 73.8 million exploited workers.
Express Tribune March 17, 2021