Specter of hunger haunts Pakistani laborers as lockdown wrecks livelihoods

Monitoring Desk

KARACHI: Coronavirus lockdowns have ravaged the livelihoods of millions of Pakistani laborers and may throw many more into unemployment after the end of Ramadan in late May, trade unions warn.

Many families who live hand-to-mouth are already struggling to fend off hunger, a plight which may prove as deadly as the novel coronavirus that has upended commercial activity across the world.

“Two of my four sons have lost their daily earnings due to the lockdown, while the other two and my husband are suffering from health conditions,” said Anwari Begum who lives in Karachi, where strict lockdowns have been in place to contain the pandemic.

The two sons — a tailor and an egg seller — were the breadwinners of Begum’s household, of which 13 members live in a two-room rented house in commercial hub’s Qur’angi.

“Rations were provided by a charity organization at the beginning of the lockdown, but all is already finished and so far no more aid has arrived. We are much worried about children,” she told Arab News.

While no official figures are available, it is believed that millions of workers across the country have lost their jobs since lockdowns were introduced on March 23.

“Layoffs of workers are like a pandemic. For instance, around 3,000 power looms in Faisalabad alone provide jobs to around 300,000 workers and 95 percent of their units have closed,” said Nasir Mansoor, deputy secretary general of the National Trade Union Federation Pakistan (NTUF).

“We estimated that 4-5 million industrial workers have either lost jobs or are about to lose them. We are trying to compile the data,” he told Arab News.

According to the latest available data from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the total workforce in the country was 63.4 million in 2018, with 21 million people employed as daily wage workers and street vendors.

Estimates from Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), between 12.33 million and 18.53 million people are expected to lose their jobs in the wake of coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions.

As Punjab and Sindh are likely to be worst affected, their provincial governments have barred business owners from laying off their workers during the lockdown.

Punjab’s Labor Minister Ansar Majeed Khan Niazi told Arab News that action will be taken against factories which do not pay salaries.

“Data of 7-8 million daily wagers, rickshaw drivers, street vendors etc., has been compiled and the (central) government will compensate them from the Rs200 billion relief package announced by the prime minister,” the minister said, adding that in his province Rs12,000 ($75) will be disbursed to each of 2.5 million needy families in his province.

Meanwhile, the government of Sindh has also announced paid leave for its workforce and an ordinance is underway to prevent any worker from being laid off or face a salary deduction.

While the province has extended its lockdown until the end of Ramadan amid increasing numbers of COVID-19 infection cases, some factories have been allowed to resume operations if they can follow the government’s procedures ensuring safety amid the pandemic.

But workers themselves fear employers will not care about the procedures and ordinances when the fasting month of Ramadan is over.

“The employers have given salaries of March and have refrained from mass layoffs so far mainly due to the holy month of Ramadan,” Majyd Aziz, president of Employers Federation of Pakistan, told Arab News.

“How many of them can you put in jail?” he said, referring to business owners who may violate the regulations.

Courtesy: (Arabnews)