Daily wage earners face the third wave

June 6, 2021

Shopkeepers, vendors and labourers working for daily wages worry about how they will feed their families if this lockdown continues in the long term

Hundreds of thousands of daily wage earners, living in Karachi, are facing serious economic challenges in the ongoing smart lockdown, which started as the third wave of the pandemic ramped up in the port city at the end of March. Shopkeepers, vendors and labourers working for daily wages worry about how they will feed their families if this lockdown continues in the long term.

Shopkeepers in Saddar say that their businesses have been destroyed by this wave of coronavirus infections, as the government has slashed business timings. Shopping malls, neighbourhood markets and restaurants in the city close at 6pm. Shopkeepers say that due to hot weather, customers are reluctant to visit markets in the afternoon. Most of the customers come to the market to buy groceries and other essentials after 5pm.

“I was arrested twice in three days,” says Muhammad Faisal, a hair dresser in Federal Capital (FC) area. “They took me and some other people who were arrested from different areas of Liaquatabad to the City courts the next day. The judge ordered immediate release for all of us. Our businesses have been destroyed by these circumstances. This third wave of the pandemic has hit business badly. It has mostly affected the poor daily-wage earners in Karachi.”

The city looks deserted after 6pm because of the new directives of the Sindh government to shut down businesses before sunset. Many food streets of the city now lie in darkness, whereas crowds would rush to different eateries after sunset. Burger carts, paan shops and tea stalls are also closed. Those working at these places for daily wages have lost their jobs and are now facing serious economic challenges.

Most of the labourers, waiters, fruit sellers and industrial workers come to the city from other parts of Sindh, the Punjab, the KPK, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan. Now, they are worried about how they will pay rent, electricity bills and survive in the city. Some of those who lost their jobs during lockdown have gone back to their hometowns. Others are looking for alternative sources of income to feed their families.

Muhammad Rizwan, a resident of Orangi Town, told The News on Sunday (TNS) that he is a rickshaw driver and has rented a three-wheeler, which he drives to support eight family members. Due to the early closure of major markets he is unable to find many passengers on the roads. “I have to pay Rs 300 rent to the owner of the rickshaw per day, and I spend Rs 300 to 400 on fuel,” Rizwan said, adding that he hardly makes Rs 300, after costs, which is insufficient to feed the family. He is unable to pay house rent and for utilities due to the shortening of business hours. Rizwan says that the government has failed to help the poor during the pandemic.

Zaheer Ahmed Khan, a fruit vendor who lives in Korangi, says that this lockdown has financially crippled daily wage earners. “My income is drastically reduced because I have to close my fruit stall at 6pm. Usually, people purchase fruits on their way home from their offices in the evening,” Zaheer said, adding that he was the only bread earner of the family. He belongs to Kehror Pakka, in southern Punjab. “I do not have enough savings to send money to my family in the village,” he says.

“The government should hold talks with traders, before making any strategy to curb Covid-19 cases” — Sharjeel Gopalani.

Syed Laiq Ali, a motorbike mechanic, says that the district administration has sealed at least 11 workshops in the Zeenat Square motorbike market for violating the SOPs. Mechanics are affected by the new rules, he says. Police often make the rounds before 6pm and order them to close the workshops. “We wait for customers the whole day,” Laiq says. “The work is at its peak in the evening, when people returning home from their offices leave their bikes for repairing or tuning. Sunday is our busiest working day, but as per government policies, businesses cannot be open on Fridays and Sundays. Our income has decreased by 70 percent due to these policies. Mechanics who were earning Rs 1,000 a day, are now making just Rs 200-300 for a whole day’s work.”

Muhammad Nadeem, a blacksmith living in Orangi Town, says that he had been working at a shop at the Sindhi Hotel and earning Rs 700 daily. Due to the current policies his income has decreased significantly. “I spend Rs 200 on my transport (by bus) from Orangi Town to Liaquatabad each day to buy food.” Nadeem says that he has not received any relief or support from any government department.

“I make parathas at a tea stall and was earning Rs 1,000 daily, prior to the lock down,” says Shabbir. “Now, the owner of the stall has cut my wage to Rs 700. I rent a small room in the PIB Colony and send money to my family in Quetta. Due to two weekly holidays, my income has decreased drastically. I am looking for another job to earn some more money for the family. But, no one is ready to give me a job. Businesses have been badly damaged due to lockdowns.”

President of the All-City Tajir Ittehad Association (ACTIA), Sharjeel Gopalani, tells TNS that he had written letters to Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, about the serious financial crisis for traders and the owners of small shops due to the shortened trading hours. Gopalani says that Karachi contributes Rs 8 billion in taxes daily to the national exchequer. The city had once recorded daily trade of Rs 27 billion. “The government should hold talks with traders, before making any strategy to curb Covid-19 cases,” he says.

Chief Minister Shah said in a statement that Pakistan was “saved” from a coronavirus wave because it shut down domestic travel. “I have recently recommended to the NCOC that inter-city transport be shut down for two weeks. The minister in charge of the forum, Asad Umar, has assured me that the proposal will be considered,” the CM said.

According to the CM, 50 percent of the country’s active coronavirus cases are in Sindh. To combat covid-19, the provincial government has established the largest vaccination centre at the Expo Centre in Karachi. During the lockdown, the Sindh government has distributed relief goods in some rural areas near Karachi, among the poor and needy, he added.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi. He can be reached on Twitter @Zafar_Khan5

Daily wage earners face the third wave