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May 1, 2018

Nothing to lose


May 1, 2018

For a short while today the red flag will wave at rallies organised by labour groups and Left parties to celebrate May Day. That, however, will soon be forgotten – much as Pakistan’s working class usually is. The latest Labour Force Survey in Pakistan puts the total size of the labour force at 61 million – 46.7 million men and 14.3 million women. Around 42 million of these workers live in rural areas. The rights of these workers have continued to be denied in our history. Apart from the miniscule increases in minimum wage, there has been little commitment on the part of any government to improve the living conditions of the working class. Most workers continue to be denied basic legal rights, including old age benefits, social security and pensions. Even more troubling is how their right to unionise is actively subverted. This has led to a situation where workers no longer have organisations that represent their interests on a national scale.

This atmosphere has prevailed despite numerous industrial disasters, including the Baldia Town factory fire, Sundar Estate factory collapse and the Gadani Shipbreaking Yard tragedy, which left hundreds of workers dead. These large-scale industrial accidents are only the tip of the iceberg of the everyday industrial accidents, which cause multiple casualties. Even if the government is not committed to workers’ welfare, one would have thought such accidents would at least prompt it to take emergency measures to improve workplace security. Nothing has changed. Labour inspections remain informally banned while known dangerous worksites continue to remain operational.

It is a rather sad situation that we must talk in so much detail about workers’ safety when the focus should be on much more substantive workers rights. But Pakistan is a country that has failed to address such issues. We cannot forget that we are a country with almost 1.4 million child workers. There are still over two million bonded labourers in the country. Minimum wage notifications are never implemented. Workplace hazards are not a concern. In such a situation, workers continue to remain unsure of their place as citizens of the country. None of the political parties have made the rights of workers an election priority. And none of the political leaders who are trying to beat each other in their revolutionary credentials talk about workers. In such a situation, May Day is another reminder that the workers of Pakistan need to organise themselves to stand up for their rights.

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