ISLAMABAD - Chairman Pakistan People’s Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said that the labour class, particularly daily wagers have been those worst affected by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the world economy shrinks it is imperative on governments to support them but unfortunately, right-wing governments across the globe are deciding to put profit before people. In his message issued on the eve of International Labour Day, the PPP Chairman said that the global Corona pandemic had exposed the fatal flaws of neo-liberal economic policies, laying bare the anti-labour policies of governments that serve the few at the cost of the many.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that it was the responsibility of federal government to ensure  the speedy  provision of relief to the poor and the daily wagers during the deadly pandemic.  Sadly they have been left at the mercy of profiteers or subjected to lay-offs, he said. The state has abandoned its responsibilities and shrugged of its burden of care to protect the rights of the labour and working classes, he added. He said that this situation is a moment of concern for every conscientious Pakistani.  “At a time when the lives of our fellow citizens are in danger and their future is uncertain, conspiracies are being hatched to privatise selected state units and deprive the provinces of their constitutional powers and funds,” he added.

Bilawal pointed out that the people’s government in Sindh, through legislation, has banned the firing of any employee during a lockdown, while hundreds of thousands unemployed workers and their families have been provided with necessary rations at their doorsteps. He demanded that the federal government should provide financial assistance to unemployed workers on the basis of the minimum wage set by the government until its is safe for Pakistan to end the lockdown and send people back to work without risking their lives and well being.

He added that it was the workers who are the backbone of the economy and society, and  reiterated his commitment to the founding principles of the PPP, and build an economy by protecting the labour class not by allowing for their exploitation.

“It is the PPP which formulated the first Labour Policy in the country and recognised the value of the labour of workers. And it is the PPP that ensured employees were made partners in the growth and wealth they generated by enacting the Benazir Stock Option Schème.

And it will be the PPP that will always struggle for the end of the exploitation of workers across Pakistan regardless of their gender, caste, or creed”, he added. Separately, in her message on Labour Day, PPP Parliamentary Leader in the Senate, Senator Sherry Rehman honoured the hard-working labourers round the world and said, “It is because of our labourer’s hard work that the entire world’s wheels are rolling.” “The daily wagers make up for Pakistan’s 74% labour force and work without a formal contract. They are are vulnerable even in the best of times. They bear the brunt of escalating food prices, economic slowdowns and sudden health expenses.

Due to the pandemic, these people have suffered the most and require immediate relief. In these difficult times, it is the government’s responsibility to come forward and support all those affected, “she added. Senator Sherry Rehman said, “Most of the workers are not in the system and this is a challenge which needs to be resolved.

 Now more than ever, it is vital that all the workers should be registered with relevant institutions like social security institutions, Workers Welfare Fund and Employees Old age Benefit Institution. The minimum wages law should also be applied to the construction workers and the labour department should fix minimum wages for the skilled workers in the construction sector”.

Talking about future goals she said, “It needs to be ensured that the mechanism for enforcing the minimum wage through existing minimum wage boards is strengthened. The minimum wage should be calculated according to the living wage which should be based on a robust, internationally recognised methodology, with rural-urban price differentials being taken into due consideration. EOBI should be open to all who wish to participate in the pension fund and our female labour force participation needs to be increased too”.

“PPP has always been on the frontline when it comes to the struggle for labour rights and we will ensure that we safeguard these rights. PPP founding chairman, Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had introduced a labour policy in 1972, which brought visible changes in the life of the labourers. The credit of establishing the Worker Welfare Fund in 1971 also goes to PPP. Shaheed Benazir Bhutto pledged to align all labour laws with the regulations of the International Labor Organization, and set a minimum wage. More recently in 2018, Sindh was the first province to announce provincial labour policy after 18th amendment,” she added.

She said, “Sindh had announced paid leave for the entire workforce during the lockdown in the province. Orders have also been given to bar any worker from being laid off, or any salaries being deducted during the showdowns. The notifications have been issued under labour laws and Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act (2014)”.

“Though the federal government has announced a relief package for industrialists, the workers are still waiting for their turn. There is a dire need for a relief package which is customized for the workers as the government’s relief package for construction is only benefiting big builders and not the workers,” she added.

Senator Sherry Rehman concluded by stating, “The government’s relief package for daily wage earners is unlikely to be enough to cover the basic needs of the millions who lost their jobs amid cutbacks and shutdowns over the coronavirus crisis. They need to come up with an action plan before it is too late. We will stand shoulder to shoulder with the workers of the country and fight for their rights.