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July 4, 2018

POL price hike condemned


July 4, 2018

The interim government, aside from increasing gas and electricity tariffs, has also upped the petrol prices, something that was beyond their mandate and thus has exacerbated the already backbreaking inflation.

It was the second time within a month (July) that petrol prices had been upped, which was a flagrant violation of their mandate. This was stated by Mehnaz Rehman, director of Aurat Foundation and a prominent civil society figure, while addressing a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Tuesday afternoon.

She said the working classes were already facing crises like shortages of water and other civic facilities and now to add to that ordeal was the POL price hike-induced inflation. She lamented that the labourers’ wages had not been increased despite the relevant department’s assurances and that the department had reneged on its promise to fix the minimum wages and index them to the rise in the cost of living.

“We demand that the POL price hike be withdrawn and brought back down to the May 31, 2018, level to ease the inflationary pressures the working classes are having to face,” said Rehman.

Labour leader Habibuddin Junaidi lamented that an interim government’s only mandate was to facilitate elections and to run the routine day-to-day affairs of the country, but this interim government had taken upon itself the responsibility of such decisive measures.

The fixation of the minimum wage for workers in all the four provinces had been delayed at a time when inflation was claiming a heavy toll on the living of the poor, he added. Commenting on the exploitation of the workers’ human rights, he said that labourers, who were part of the electorate, also had an equal right to contest elections and take part in the political process. As for the representation of labour unions in the affairs of the banks, it had been reduced to a mere 10 percent, he said.

Liaquat Sahi, head of the State Bank of Pakistan Workers’ Union, said that it was a cruel irony that while prices of POL products in the international market had declined, they had been upped in Pakistan.

He said the workers’ fundamental rights were being trampled upon. He added that the rights included the right to expression, the right to association, and the right to life. He said the Supreme Court of Pakistan had already declared contractual employment illegal, yet the corporate sector was resorting to it with impunity.

Human rights activist Asad Butt said that the right to life enshrined in the constitution did not just connote the act of breathing to stay alive. It implied, he said, the provision of facilities that enabled one to live an optimum life which, in turn, implied the provision of the basic facilities of life. He said an interim government was not competent to take decisive steps. He said that a 15-30 per cent increase in tariffs implied a 40-50 per cent rise in the cost of living, which was very hard for an already underpaid worker to bear.

The director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, Karamat Ali, expressed concern over the delay in the announcement of the minimum wage for unskilled workers. He said that every year minimum wages for labour were announced at the time of the presentation of the budget, but this year there was no announcement at the federal or the provincial level.

He said that the wages should be rationalised in light of the extreme inflation and fixed at Rs30,000 to Rs50,000 per month.

Citing a World Bank study, he said that 80 per cent of a poor man’s income went into food and, in case of a price increase, they had to curtail their diet, which, in turn, affected their health and also had to cut back on healthcare. Quoting the same study, he said that 25-30 per cent of a common man’s income went into healthcare and that was all there was.

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