In Pakistan, there is no indication of relief in the lives of labourers and low-paid workers as these matters rank low in the government’s priorities.
The unprecedented hike in the cost of living Pakistan has caused extreme hardship to people in all classes, especially those whose ability to purchase items of daily use is declining at a fast pace. While there is no compromise on the output required from them by their employers, increase in their salaries have been none or insignificant since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. In some cases, employers have expressed their inability to grant annual increments on account of dwindling productivity and reduction in sales as the buying power of customers has been adversely affected.
Added to this is the price hike over the past two years which has further crippled the buying power of the lower income groups and the incredible high that has been seen as result of the Shahbaz Sharif government.
Despite the fixation of minimum wage for unskilled workers by the government, there is no dearth of unscrupulous employers in the country. They openly violate the law by paying much less wages to those vulnerable workers, who don’t possess any skills. There are various classes of workers who fall within this category and are exposed to exploitation by their employers. Some of these jobs comprise sweepers, janitors, helpers in workshops and canteens/restaurants, security guards and truck cleaners, etc.
Since the time of devolution, the minimum wage for unskilled workers is fixed, based on political expediency, which is often challenged in courts by the employers. When the latter get favourable decisions, it is again the poor unskilled workers, who have to suffer the consequences of the government’s over zealousness.
The declaration of minimum wage for unskilled workers by the government has not caused any problems since 1969, when it was fixed at Rs. 140 p.m. for the first time. Since 2010, its management by the respective provinces has twice caused monetary loss to workers due to highly ambitious fixation of minimum wage by two of the provinces at the expense of employers.
In July 2014, KPK had fixed a higher minimum wage of Rs. 15,000 p.m. when it was fixed at Rs. 12,000 by the other three provinces. On suspension of this wage by the Peshawar High Court in March 2015, the KPK government had to bring it down to Rs. 12,000 effective from July 2014, causing workers the loss of arrears.
Similarly, effective July 1, 2021, the Sindh government had fixed the minimum wage at Rs. 25,000 p.m., increasing it by around 43 % from Rs. 17,500. The federal government had fixed it at Rs. 20,000 while the rate in Punjab was Rs. 20,000; Baluchistan Rs. 20,000 and KPK Rs. 21,000. As against this, the Sindh Minimum Wage Board, which also comprises the employers’ representatives, had recommended a minimum wage of Rs. 19,000.