Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif used the last May Day before the coming elections to announce increases in the minimum wage. As Mian Shahbaz announced a raise of Rs 2000 to Rs 9000, and Mr Gilani Rs 1000 to Rs 8000, the former has placed the province in the position of having a higher minimum wage than the others. Mian Shahbaz made his announcement at a function in which party chief Mian Nawaz Sharif distributed apartment keys to 1296 workers. Mr Gilani made his announcement at a Labour Day function in the Convention Centre, Islamabad. However, the main question surrounding the minimum wage is implementation. Neither Mr Gilani nor Mian Shahbaz announced further measures to ensure implementation, thus leaving the announcements as damp squibs which failed to enthuse the electorate ahead of the coming elections. There is also the question of how far the minimum wage after the recent bouts of inflation represents a fair minimum wage. Was the wage increase enough? At the same time, while the government needs to ensure that entrepreneurs do not earn unusually fat profits and they also have to guard against cost-push inflation caused by the minimum-wage increase causing production costs to rise abnormally.

While making this increase, the Punjab government had been competing with the federal, but it should be kept in mind that the federal government will have to match it. Its actions, of regularizing all PTCL and CDA employees, and raising EOBI pensions, and the marriage gifts and death grants, will also go to workers in Punjab. This shows how it will not be possible for either party to separate out the gifts given to the worker on the basis of party, and thus the announcements may not have as much of an impact on the election as the parties hoped.

May Day is marked as Labour Day, but labourers’ rights are not supposed to be the concern of governments for only one day a year. The minimum wage increase is a good thing, though it should not be made the subject of electioneering. The delivery of the increase to the target workers must be ensured, something which governments should do by means of honest inspection, not the corrupted structure of the past. However, on this Labour Day, labourers had much to be grateful for, not least that they were being courted by both parties, and not just the country’s prime minister, but also the chief minister of its largest province.