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April 3, 2020

Social security for all

Opinion

April 3, 2020

The federal government has extended the restrictions imposed in the country till April 14. This decision was taken in the meeting of the National Coordination Committee (NCC). The NCC will review the situation before April 14 and then decide to ease or extend the restrictions.

According to the figures given by SAPM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, the total number of confirmed cases has crossed 2000 (and now stands at 2290). “The surge is high; the average increase per day is 12 percent. There are over 8,800 people in quarantine and more than 5,000 have been tested out of which 19 percent have tested positive”.

These numbers clearly show that the government has no option but to extend the lockdown or restrictions. The weak and underfunded public health system cannot cope with exponential growth of the Covid-19 pandemic.

What the federal and provincial governments immediately need to do is to allocate more money for public health services to buy ventilators, testing kits, protective gears, masks and medicines. Without a functional and fully equipped healthcare system and medical supplies, the treatment of infected patients will be severely impacted.

At the same time, both the federal government and provincial governments need to divert sufficient resources to help all those people hit by this crisis. The government needs to help the working class and poor families who have lost jobs and incomes as a result of the lockdown and containment measures. Government support to poor families and working people is a key factor to successfully keep them at their homes.

The government needs to prepare a clear strategy to reach out to the people who need support to survive in these tough times. The lockdown has created a tough situation for daily wage labourers and contract workers both in the formal and informal sectors. The closure of markets, businesses and industries have made millions of daily wage labourers, third party contract workers and temporary workers unemployed. They need government support to survive in these tough times.

The federal government and provincial governments are trying to help them. But they are facing two problems at the moment. One, there is no institution in the country that has accurate data of daily wage and contract workers working in industries, businesses and markets. No one has the data of self-employed workers who have also been badly hit by the lockdown. According to the ILO, only 10 to 15 percent workers in the formal sector are registered with the authorities. Nearly 85 percent workers in the formal sector are not registered with social security departments.

There is no reliable data to determine how many workers are employed in the informal sector. So no government or non-government organisation or department has the exact numbers on how many workers have been affected by the lockdown and how much money is needed to support them.

Two, there is no coherent, efficient and properly running and managed integrated social security system in the country to immediately support the needy. The absence of such a social security system has made matters more complicated and time consuming. There is no integrated national system that could be used to reach out to all the workers. We need to create one to avoid such a situation in the future.

Both federal and provincial governments are facing problems in reaching out to the real affected workers as no proper mechanism exists. The social security net that exists in provinces to register workers and provide them facilities, including old age pension and other benefits has a limited data of workers.

The social security departments in provinces only registered workers through their employers. The employers just registered a fraction of workers working in their industries and businesses. The governments want to reach out to the affected workers but lack of accurate data and absence of an integrated social security system is making this process more problematic.

This law and regulation needs to be changed so every worker working at every workplace or self-employed could register him/herself with the social security department. Millions of workers are not registered with social security. They really do not exist for government departments.

Pakistan needs a Universal Registration Scheme to register every citizen who is economically active and working as a wage labourer. Under this scheme, workers should be allowed to register and contribute towards social security benefits including old age pension.

The government could introduce a tier system for contribution and benefits. This would be a concrete step towards a welfare state that will provide social security cover to all working men and women.

NADRA can help establish a national database of all the workers in the country. The concerned labour departments of provincial governments must initiate province-wise workers surveys to collect data and draw up a policy framework to bring them under the social security net.

We need to learn lessons from this crisis to better prepare ourselves for any crisis in the future. One important lesson is that working people in Pakistan need an integrated social security system and protection to survive in any crisis situation.

The writer is a freelance journalist.