Tuesday September 21, 2021

Minimum wage

August 01, 2021

The benchmark of a minimum wage for workers is an established practice in a majority of countries in the world. It ensures that workers eke out a living at a bare minimum to sustain their and their families’ lives. The Sindh High Court has issued notices to the secretary labour and human resource department and secretary of the Minimum Wage Board on a petition of traders’ associations that challenges the minimum monthly wage of Rs25,000 by the government of Sindh. Businesspersons and traders claim that this level of minimum wage would lead to the closure of their businesses. Unfortunately, in this claim not only is the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) the prime petitioner, but the Sindh Industrial Trading Estate (SITE) associations and other bodies too are demanding the withdrawal of the minimum wage limit. Workers had been relieved when the government of Sindh announced increasing the minimum salary from Rs17, 500 to Rs25, 000 per month.

The petitioners are invoking the Sindh Minimum Wage Act 2015, and saying that the Sindh government has set the minimum wage without initiating statutory requirements as contained in the Act. The Sindh government, according to the petition, has acted in excess of its jurisdiction. The petitioners have also cited the fact that the increase in minimum wages announced by the federal government and other provinces was less than that announced by the Sindh government. Without going into the details of the petition, it is safe to say that the interest of the workers must be supreme in any such discussion. Pakistan is a country where the division between the rich and the poor is both stark and wide. The lowest-income strata are the worst affected by the rising inflation and the economic hardships in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The well-being of millions of people depends on this meagre amount. Depriving the poorest of the poor of even this minimum wage is tantamount to snatching bread from their children’s hands. There are other factors contributing to increasing costs of products in Pakistan and a minimum wage for workers is the least of them. A large spectrum of various taxes, high prices of power, bureaucratic hurdles, corruption, poor infrastructure, and low level of technical competence are some of the factors that hamper our manufacturing sector and export potential. Punishing the workers by reducing their wages is not a good idea. The workers in this country are already under tremendous duress; depriving them of their essential living wages would be cruel.