Published in Dawn on June 6 2018
LONG-HAUL trucks, trailers and big intercity buses — the most noticeable vehicles on the roads, for their mammoth bodies and exotic art — are operated by workers who are the least visible and seldom talked about in Pakistan’s work sphere. It is their workplaces — roads, highways and motorways, bridges and infrastructure — that get all the attention. Policymakers plan projects, allocate resources, inaugurate sections of motorways; citizens complain of potholes, drive fast on newly built roads and dislike heavy vehicles plying the city’s arteries. All the while, transport workers — drivers, conductors, cleaners, helpers — go about their work shadowed by ‘informality’ and play their silent role in the economy.
The transport sector — road, rail, sea and air — is the fifth largest sector in terms of employment following agriculture, services, manufacturing and construction, and it employs six per cent of the total workforce. The sector is dominated by road transportation where workers struggle with low wages, long working hours, poor work conditions, occupational health hazards and lack of social protection. Highly informal and fragmented, the road transport sector is characterised by a weak regulatory framework and non-compliance with labour laws.
This research report was written for Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), Karachi and was published in 2006.
This study presents an overview of road transport sector work environment, labour relations and working conditions and examines workers’ response to address some of the issues relating to social security through collective action. Methodology includes literature review and assessment through informal discussions with a select number of transport workers/operators, representatives of transport workers’ unions/organizations/federations, and private transport companies.
Mustachioed, grim-faced, 44-year-old Najibullah Khan is on the road for the last 29 years. He works as a driver on long distance route—Karachi to Islamabad. “I get Rs. 1500 per trip. A trip takes 26-27 hours. I make about 6 trips a month and that adds up to Rs. 9000 per month”. Born in a village in Musakhel, Mianwali, Najib dropped out of school after class 6 and was pushed into the labour market as a child. Initially he worked as bus cleaner and helper. When he got his license at 18, he took to driving. In 1973 he came to live in Karachi where he shares a rented accommodation with another person.
Najib’s family members (parents, wife and 5 children) work as sharecropper in the village. These days he is paying a monthly installment of Rs. 1000 to the money lender for a loan of Rs. 10,000 he took to help his family buy agricultural inputs. “There is one more driver along with me in the bus, and we take turns after 4-5 hours of driving, taking 2-3 hours rest in between. After each trip I am off the bus for 24 hours and busy with maintenance of the vehicles and carry out related errands. I get little time to spend with my family whom I visit fortnightly.” For Najib, there are no holidays, no medical or other facilities and no social security.
Click on the link below to view the full report:
Road Transport Workers in Pakistan