By Aftab Alam Khan

I thought I was under attack when around ten young men raced towards my car and besieged it.  I was stunned for few seconds but understood the situation as soon as they started shouting in Urdu mazdur chahye?…mazdur chahye? (need laborer? ..need laborer?).

It happened yesterday morning, 1st May, when the world was celebrating Labour Day. I got out of the car and spoke to them.

I don’t need a laborer but want to talk briefly. Do you know today is Labour Day and many people are enjoying holiday?’. Only few of them responded ‘yes’.

I asked ‘then why aren’t  you taking a day off like others?’  Many of them started responding, simultaneously.

‘We have no holiday sir’

‘We earn on daily basis’

‘Our children are waiting for money. What will they eat if we take a day off?’

 ‘Which newspaper are you from?’

‘Holidays are for office people’

‘We will eat after we earn today’

I had no answers to their questions but said, ‘You are the most important people of our nation. I am sorry that you cannot take a day off when this is supposed to be your day. This is an unjust situation.  I am not from newspaper but I can write a blog to share your feelings on Labour Day’.

They started praying for me and seemed happy with my little gesture of solidarity. Within seconds I was standing alone as they all ran towards another car that stopped nearby. 

A large majority of workers in Pakistan are informal laborers without holidays, without contracts, no minimum wage, no health facilities, no unions – that means outside of the legal and social protection of labour rights provided through our constitution and legislation. Women are the worst hit with additional exposures to lower wages, unpaid care work and sexual harassment.  

Allama Dr Iqbal’s eighty years old narration remains valid.  

Tu Qadir o Adil hey magar terey jahan men

Hen talkh buht banda –e- mazdur key auqat

English translation:

Omnipotent, Righteous, You:

Bitter the laborer’s chained hours in Your world !

Individuals and companies prosper on the hard work of laborers whose conditions remain unchanged. Yet we rarely talk about them. Neither teachers, nor students. It’s hard to find either debates in colleges and universities or discussions in public or dialogues among friends. Direct interactions with laborers to understand their problems are even more uncommon.  

Since development of societies depends upon the prosperity of workers, inequalities against them must  be ceased. Government, companies and political parties should fulfill their responsibilities.  Individuals can contribute by respecting laborers and treating them fairly. And by talking about them, by writing about them. 

 

Aftab Alam Khan is a Chevening Scholar and International Development Consultant based in Islamabad. He can be reached at aftabalam_khan@yahoo.com