Social Security for all
‘A’ worked as a helper at a shop owned by ‘B’. After seven years, he worked with ‘C’ for eight years in a different town. He then went on to work for ‘D’ for nine years and finally as a gardener for ‘E’ for 10. His 34 years of working at shops and homes of different employers almost always involved less than legal minimum wage, more than eight hours of work and no EOBI or Social Security.
A is now 60 years’ old and can no longer perform a regular job. Despite his 34 years of working life, he is not entitled to any old-age benefit, pension or gratuity. Post retirement, he is a dead weight on his family and society.
Each day, more and more people join the ranks of those who have been “exploited for life” and “reduced to dependency” because the state did not create an old-age benefit scheme or social security for millions working in the informal sector. The current law for EOBI and Social Security, applicable only where an employer has more than five employees is grossly inadequate. It simply has no place for a self-employed individual.
Pakistan can make revolutionary improvements in the lives of its citizens if it legislates and ensures that every citizen regardless of the organisation and type of work, (a) receives minimum legal wage, (b) is registered with EOBI and, (c) registered with Social Security. It must be legally binding for anyone who employs even a single worker (such as domestic help), to meet these three conditions.
The EOBI contribution, calculated on Rs8,000 in Sindh, Rs13,000 in Punjab and Rs17,500 in K-P ought to be made consistent for workers across Pakistan. It must be repeatedly announced on TV and newspapers that anyone employing even a single individual regardless of the nature of work (domestic help, agricultural, commercial or industrial), ought to comply with legal minimum wage requirements, depositing 6% of the minimum wage towards EOBI and 6% towards Social Security. Needless to say, all transactions ought to be done through digital banking channels.
All this is possible only if the government replaces its existing cumbersome payment and money transfer systems with efficient digital financial services. Pakistan could learn from Kenya, a remarkably progressive African country, which has an extremely simple, ‘Central Bank of Kenya regulated’, M-Pesa money transfer scheme. This mobile phone-based system enables instantaneous payments between citizens, trades, banks and government. While Pakistan’s much delayed initiative to introduce RAAST is a welcome development, it is far behind times and needs to be greatly accelerated. Afterall a common citizen has no interest in a digital highway. He needs actual transports (applications) to travel.
Considering that only an estimated 10-12% of our total formal and informal labour force is registered with EOBI and Social Security, one can understand the complete dysfunctionality and ineffectiveness of both organisations. They need to be resurrected, radically reformed and completely digitised. They ought to be responsible for ensuring EOBI and Social Security registration/collection for all citizens working anywhere in Pakistan, in any capacity or organisation. This is possible only if all collection records are digitised and linked to CNIC and NADRA’s database.
Pakistan has failed to take adequate measures to enhance the wellbeing, prosperity and conveniences for its ordinary citizens. We need to lift our exploitative and callous knees from the necks of our poor and downtrodden so they too can breathe more freely. One of the first executive orders of the new US President was to raise the Federal Minimum Wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour. Can Pakistan too follow this humane precedence?