There are many workers and daily wage earners who don’t have the privilege to take the day off — on May 1
When Rozina, our housemaid, was asked by my mother whether she’d be taking a day off on May 1 — that is, the International Labour Day and would be her well-deserved holiday — she said she wouldn’t.
Realising that Rozina wasn’t aware of the fact that it’s a public holiday, my mother tried to educate her about it, but the latter said that she had to come to work because her employers at another place where she worked part-time didn’t want her to be absent.
Every year, most media platforms across the world spell out the importance of the Labour Day. Walks, seminars and discussions are held; articles are printed; documentaries and dramas on the subject are churned out; and NGOs and rights activists campaign for the cause (possibly in pursuit of monetary aid). The ground reality, at least in our part of the world, may be far too detached from what this day stands for.
There’s an adage that the busman doesn’t have a holiday. But if we look around, there are many workers and daily wage earners who don’t have the privilege to take the day off — on May 1, that is. Hakeem Daad, 55, a private security guard, who works in a posh area of Karachi, is one such worker. He tells me that he must report at work, “It’s the matter of security.”
Daad’s cousin, 40-year-old Sikandar, is a private car driver. Interestingly, he is allowed (by his employer) to take the day off. He explains, “My kind of job is not crucial, like that of the paramedics, for instance.”
It’s a pity to see poor labourers sitting around on pavements lining the city streets, hoping for employment to come by, Labour Day or no Labour Day. Thanks to inflation, they aren’t able to meet their daily expenses.
Gul, a teenager, cleans dishes and tables at a roadside hotel, and delivers tea twice every day to nearby offices. He too can’t take the day off on May 1, but he gets “some relief in that all corporate offices are closed and there are few deliveries to be made.”
There’s another angle to the story — the daily wagers’. It’s a pity to see poor labourers sitting around on pavements lining the city streets, hoping for employment to come by, Labour Day or no Labour Day. Thanks to the ever rising inflation, they aren’t able to meet their daily expenses, let alone save for a vacation. The pandemic-induced lockdowns have further spoilt their chances of finding work. Given the situation, they can’t afford to have a day off.
Izhar, 40, is an unhappy labourer perched on a roadside near Lines Area, Karachi. He is waiting to be picked up for the day’s work. Being a daily wager, he says, he doesn’t have much choice.
While higher-level workers would get overtime, if they can’t take the day off on a public holiday, for a rickshaw driver or a housemaid or a chaiwala, it’s only a fantasy.
The writer is a physician, healthcare leader, traveller and a YouTuber who hosts the DocTree Team promoting Organic Gardening in Pakistan. He tweets @Ali_Shahid82