Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2021
No aspect of labour economy is as divisive and as controversial as minimum wage. On one side are economists and employers who think minimum wage creates distortion in the labour market, leads to unemployment and lowers productivity. Add to this the anti-poor section who thinks the poor are lazy, illiterate and deserve low wages! On the other side are sociologists, political economists, pro-poor policymakers who think all human beings have a right to a decent living and thus need a wage floor to put their feet on the ground so as not to fall into the abyss of poverty.
Debate on minimum wage has intensified in the 21st century since the American economists challenged the classical view and presented empirical evidence that minimum wage increases do not have adverse effect on employment in Myth and Measurement: The New Economics of the Minimum Wage in 1995. Factors which impact productivity are workers’ education and skills and technology. However, these topics, worthy of greater debate in Pakistan, do not receive as much attention or ignite sentiments as does minimum wage.
Published in Dawn on June 11, 2019.
The textile industry the world over poses many hazards to workers, such as musculoskeletal disorders and exposure to chemicals, dust, fibres, noise, vibration, and dangerous machinery. In addition to mechanical and chemical hazards, fires pose the greatest risk, particularly in developing economies with substandard building structures. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure workplace safety through national safety regulations, along with inspection and compliance mechanisms. South Asian states, however, tend to abdicate this crucial responsibility — which may result in workers losing their lives and limbs.
Published in Dawn on January 21 2018
THE 12th Five Year Plan (2018-23) — to be finalised soon — is based on a strategy that combines “inclusive growth with green development”. In recent years ‘inclusive growth’ — growth that benefits all segments of society — has replaced ‘poverty alleviation’ as a catchphrase in development planning. Everyone is talking about it, including the IMF, World Bank, ADB, ILO, national governments as well as those averse to the ‘growth’ paradigm. So let’s hope all players in the international and national arena mean it and are out to promote “equity, equality of opportunity, and protection in market and employment” as defined by the World Bank.
The time has come for Pakistan to address inequity and to tackle the informal economy, which is considered a barrier to inclusive growth as it excludes the majority of people from accessing opportunities of productive growth in the economic realm and deprives them of entitlements at work because of their informal status. In comparison, workers engaged in formal, registered, tax compliant businesses and units are legally covered for social protection.
The government cites its inability to bring thousands of small enterprises under the tax net, while the enterprises point to financial constraints as the main reason for remaining informal. However, both concede that formality is desirable for it benefits all stakeholders in the long run. Yet the goal remains elusive.
Published in Dawn on January 15th, 2017
“There are many horizons that must be visited … and white pages in the scrolls of life to be inscribed…” Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North.
IT was 1991 and I was travelling by road in a small group to Iran, Turkey and Greece. In Maku, a city in a mountain gorge in west Azerbaijan province, 22 kilometres away from the Turkish border, we met two Bangladeshis who were travelling to Turkey onward to Greece “on mules”, they told us.
I was flabbergasted. “We travel by night, lest we are caught,” they shared with us, their fellow South Asians. Once they would reach Greece, they planned to slip away to greener pastures — Germany or France. Later, in a small pension in Istanbul, overlooking the Bosphorus, we were served by a young man from Punjab who told us his tale of woe: his agent, also a Pakistani, had robbed him of his passport and dollars.
Published in Dawn November 1st, 2016
ONE of the many trials and tribulations of workers engaged in brick-making was reflected in the recent news of their children protesting against the closure of three schools, facilitated by an NGO and supported by the Sindh Education Foundation, at the brick kilns in Tando Hyder in Sindh.
Published on May 26 2016 in Dawn
Hope is the thing with feathers — perches in the soul — and sings the tune … and never stops. — Emily Dickinson
THE women of Pakistan keep on struggling on sheer grit and eternal hope but if you glance at the global data you would laugh at their tenacity and this ‘thing with feathers’ called ‘hope’: we live at the bottom of the pit when it comes to the gender gap.
Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2016
IT was an early March morning in 2009 and I was cruising along one of the primary roads in the central business district area of Dhaka city where many of the ready-made garments (RGM) factories are housed in old buildings.
Young girls in droves, dressed in shalwar-kameez, were emerging from the side lanes, stepping down from the buses, crossing the road, chatting on the footpath, bending over street vendors’ wares now and then and heading towards their factories for the morning shift.
I was in Dhaka to get a sense of what makes Bangladeshi RGM women workers organise for their rights. I climbed a narrow staircase of a building where many girls had gone. The factory was on the first floor. From the small landing I looked through the iron grille padlocked from outside: women bending over sewing machines in rows. A surly young man guarded the door: “outsiders are not allowed”, he told me.
Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014
THE concept of safety at the workplace as a fundamental human right is slowly making its way into the ethos of a South Asian society burdened with the notion of destiny. ‘If the roof falls on your head, too bad. You were fated to die this way while at work.’ Workers and other stakeholders are now rising up against this farcical justification for the inhuman treatment of labour. If not in Pakistan, at least in Bangladesh workers are demanding safety and stakeholders have begun to listen.
Bangladesh is taking the lead in giving higher priority to workers’ safety and the prevention of industrial accidents though it learnt its lesson the hard way: from 2005 to 2013, industrial accidents in the readymade garments sector killed over 2,000 workers and injured a higher number. These accidents occurred due to gross violations of building safety codes and labour standards. The case is not different here.
Published in Dawn on June 16 2014
FOR the cynic, or for a gleeful employer, the trade union is a dying breed, perhaps already dead; for a die-hard optimist, the trade union — like a phoenix — is arising from its own ashes. But dead or alive, trade unions are definitely evolving into newer shapes. Driven to the wall in the current cut-throat, neo-liberal, capitalist era, trade unions are fighting precarious employment and multinational corporations by banding together across the globe.
However, it is not the first time that trade union bodies are coming together. Major international trade union federations had emerged in Europe and the US after the Second World War to claim their rights from the state and national capitalists. Now their adversaries are the powerful multinational corporations and financialised capitalism. Since the beginning of the 21st century, international trade union federations are realigning themselves as global unions and reaching out to workers across continents.
This research report was written as a project undertaken by Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) in collaboration with South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE) and was published in 2009.
This brief paper attempts to investigate the status of women workers in textile/apparel industries of Pakistan and Bangladesh, and explore the extent of mobilization and organization of women workers in the context of weakened trade unionism in the two countries. The study seeks to analyze the nature and extent of women’s contestation of barriers
and negotiation of space as defined through the institutionalized mechanisms of control and cultural barriers in the Muslim societies of the two countries.
Click the link below to view the full report:
Women Workers in Textile/Readymade Garments Sector in Pakistan and Bangladesh