Tuesday March 28, 2023

Decision to close markets by 8pm: Implementation linked to provinces’ support

December 22, 2022

LAHORE:The federal government announced its decision to close markets across Pakistan by 8pm without first consulting the provincial governments that have the power to regulate market and their timings. Implementation of this directive is linked with cooperation from the provinces.

The decision in principle is good. Markets the world over open at 9am or earlier and close at 5pm or 6pm. The timings are in line with the global principle of 8 working hours per day with one hour recess. Shops and markets close on Sundays and in most cases on Saturday as well.

There is no fix timings for markets opening and closing in Pakistan. Shopkeepers in small neighbourhoods open shops as early as 7am while major shopping centres open at around 12noon and close at 12 at night to 1am. Most of the shopkeepers are not documented. Their employees (salesmen) are not protected by labour laws. They get half the minimum wage announced by the government, they work for up to 13 to 14 hours a day on that wage and are not given overtime. In fact for provincial labour departments they do not exist.

The consumers have tuned their shopping according to the norms in the markets. The actual sales start after sunset and continue till mid-night. These habits could be changed with strict administrative action as was done during covid-19 peak when everyone including the consumers adapted to the restricted opening of the markets. It was folly to relax the times after covid-19 threat was over. Commonsense tells us that every citizen would complete shopping even if market timings are shortened. But the shopkeepers are the strongest pressure group in our society. They always resist any regulation that brings them into discipline. They go on shutter down strike if they are asked to document their business, or if tax officials raid markets or if they are asked to close shops earlier. They observed almost one month's shutter down strike (all shops throughout Pakistan were closed) during the tenure of Gen (Retd) Musharraf for asking them to come under proper tax net.

The federal government has an uphill task to bring all the provinces on one page in this regard. Even if they all agree it would be impossible to convince the opposition party on this count. They would exploit the situation by favoring the traders who would resort to shutter down strikes. The writ of all the provincial governments is weak in this regard. Only the cantonments where the cantonment boards strictly enforce all rules the markets would only and close on time.

The closure of the market might be badly needed but similar directions have failed in the past even when the government writ looked strong. Presently both federal and provincial governments lack the writ and determination to resist any public pressure. The directive would be partially successful even in the federal capital where government does not need the consent of the provincial governments.