Monday July 15, 2024

Migrants in a pandemic

By Editorial Board
April 09, 2020

The coronavirus now sweeping through the country presents many challenges and has brought various kinds of miseries. One of the biggest threats is to the millions of migrant workers in Pakistan, most of them internal migrants, who have left their homes in remote rural areas to find work in larger cities. Of these 8.5 million migrant workers, some 3.78 million are facing immediate lay-offs and this process has already begun according to the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. One reason for this is the issues business owners face with keeping their enterprises afloat. Informal workers, who comprise 45 percent of the total migrant labour force, are likely to be the first to be laid off. Once such layoffs begin in earnest, it means tens of thousands of people will be left without homes to stay in or means to earn a livelihood.

In Punjab, where 5.33 million migrant workers are located, 2.37 million face a threat of layoffs while 0.58 of Sindh’s 1.3 million migrant workforce faces the same risk. Others in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are also at risk of being left suddenly jobless as businesses fall apart. Experts say that the fate of these internal migrant workers has been ignored even while there has been official concern about a slowdown in remittances from overseas workers.

Sixty-five percent of migrant workers reside in 15 district across Pakistan, concentrated in Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The hardest hit workers are expected to be those working in manufacturing, retail, construction, transport and the communications sectors. PIDE has suggested that given the massive layoffs which could lie ahead, dormitory style shelters need to be created so that these workers who cannot for the moment travel home in the absence of bus and train services are not stranded roofless in their places of work. It also suggests that the government devise a social protection package, keeping in mind that if there is a longer-term lockdown, migrant workers may opt to return home and then re-enter larger cities when the situation improves. Huge movements of migrant workers have already been witnessed in India and to avoid the situation they are facing, PIDE has suggested laid off workers be given an immediate cash transfer of Rs12,000 under the Ehsaas Programme; but that tis has to be done after removing the condition that they register in their hometowns. Such measures urgently need to be considered and put in place. Workers who have migrated with their families also need suitable shelters where they can house their families along with vital supplies such as food and soap to decrease the risk posed by Covid-19. Migrant workers are among the poorest proportion of labourers in society. Means need to be found to support them and prevent them being crushed further by the crisis that is unfolding.