The rational miser

The National Trade Union Federation has demanded that the government implement the minimum wage of Rs 7,000 and give a 17 percent raise as per the new labour policy unveiled by Prime Minister Gilani this year. This policy, announced on May Day, had a lot of positive aspects like free medical treatment and legal support for workers. But as with all good laws in Pakistan, the real test is implementation. Over 250 workers gathered in Lahore the other day to protest the lack of implementation by both the public and private sectors. It is highly unfortunate that the government has not been able to fix this problem even three months after the policy was announced. Unfortunately, the government has had to face some man-made and natural disasters after the policy was announced and could be forgiven for the lapse in the public sector given the precarious economic situation, but there is no explanation for why the private sector continues to resist implementation. In plain words, the private sector is showing its true capitalist colours and acting like a “rational miser”.

Another important issue that was raised in the labour rally was that of the ban on labour inspection of factories in Punjab. This system was banned by the Pervaiz Elahi government under the Punjab Industrial Policy 2003. It is true that labour inspectors used to harass businessmen and industrialists in order to mint money, but putting a blanket ban on labour inspections is akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water. There is an inherently unequal relationship between management and labour. Labour inspections are therefore a pro-worker measure to ensure that the workers are receiving their due rights. The Punjab government must lift this ban and tackle the corruption issue to make the inspections efficacious. Managements would then not have any excuse to complain about the labour inspectors while the workers too would receive protection for their rights.

Inflation has increased manifold in recent years, the burden falling disproportionately on the poor. It would thus be a great disservice to the working class if the labour policy is not implemented in letter and spirit and the lacunae in it addressed. Not to adopt modern industrial relations risks agitation and disruption of industrial peace and productivity.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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