The vast majority of workers in Pakistan – dominated by the informal sector – remain on the precarious edges or far outside the ambit of labor laws and social protection. For all the elite cares – and it rarely matters if it is the conservative lot or liberal – the average Pakistani worker could be languishing under bonded labor prevalent within the country and abroad in the Gulf States where the majority of the labor-force is South Asian or they could be, as we witnessed on Wednesday, incinerated to ash. Three workers were killed in a massive blaze that swallowed a three-storey plaza in Bakkar Mandi on Bund Road.

The violence of unprotected and underpaid labor goes beyond death. These deceased workers leave behind their loved ones – wives and children – whose source of livelihood stems directly from the men in their houses. Once they leave, so does the bread on the table. And no matter how many condemnations of faulty architecture and negligent employers or announcements of solidarity with workers and their families, the fact of the matter is that our opulent politicians and bureaucrats do not face the same kind of threatening lack of social and economic security the way the working class does. Ergo, they cannot empathize sincerely and until they are trapped in the same economic sadism, they never will.

It isn’t as if our constitution and institutions possess no legal framework to address this ever present disregard for the life of laborers in Pakistan. The Constitution of Pakistan itself stipulates Article 11, 17, 18, 25 and 37(e) for the empowerment of workers, protection against forced labor and discrimination and – most importantly – the securing of just and humane conditions of work. These articles address the needs of those working in both informal and formal sectors. All of this and more is harrowingly absent from the work ethic of those employing labor for their own inward-looking interests.

To say we have a Workers’ Welfare Fund (established in 1971), it remains static in providing funds to workers according to proclaimed mandate. And, yes, while the State recognizes – at a theoretical level – the relationship between the workers, employers and governmental machinery, it still plays a disappointing role in promoting sustainable and healthy labor rights and working conditions. Azhar, Waqar and Irfan – aged 30, 23 and 17 – were not the first three workers to have died in an avoidable tragedy – and with how insensitive authorities remain, they will not be the last.