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Of pure, but not for poor!

Huzaima Bukhari

“Strong people don’t put others down. They lift them up”—Darth Vader-Philanthropist

Legendary Greek philosopher, Aristotle said that man is by nature a social animal. He further explained that those people who are unsocial naturally and not accidentally, are either too unimportant to be given any credence or are more than human, meaning divine but the real crux of the issue as we generally understand is that man cannot live alone. Naturally, if he cannot live by himself, then he will have to associate with other human beings for which, there arises the need for a social contract to lay down some rules and regulations regarding interactive mannerism.

Based on findings by social contract theorists, people live together in a society in accordance with an agreement that establishes moral and political rules of behavior. The urge to live in flocks is obvious from the tremendous amount of dependency on one another that compels one to seek support and companionship in order to fulfill basic needs. These basic needs traditionally comprise food, water, clothing and shelter that are consumption-oriented but the modern day requirements of sanitation, education and health care, are development-oriented that help a society to stand on its own. Over time the journey of a human being has brought him a long way from a fairly simple tribal set-up to the more modern and complex form of civilization as represented by 195 countries spread around on this planet Earth with their citizens bound in a social contract according to their respective constitutions.

Thomas Hobbes said that humans consent to abdicate their rights in favour of the absolute authority of government (whether monarchical or parliamentary) in order to avoid a war-like situation. In contrast to the jungle rule of “might is right” a social contract is a civilized agreement whereby the people of a country, agree to recognize the authority of the state over themselves in return for certain fundamental necessities of life and protection of their rights. Of course, as in any other contractual agreement there are a number of gives and takes whereby the government of a country expects from its denizens loyalty, taxes from its affluent classes, refrain from indulging in criminal activities, follow law and order etc. while the citizens expect that their government would provide for them to the best of its capabilities.

Pakistan is a unique country! Here the level of expectancy of the state with respect to faithfulness of the citizens is disproportionately much higher than what the citizens are getting in return, especially the majority who are classified as poor and daily wage earners, whether they belong to the rural areas or are part of the few metropolitan communities. Amazingly, they remain loyal despite the continuous betrayal of those whom they religiously vote for, during elections. Their dilemma, however, is that because of their pathetic social backgrounds, their choices are limited, giving them hardly any scope to migrate to greener pastures like their better off brothers and sisters who, dejected by decades of State’s violations of the social contract move to countries that they believe have better facilities for their inhabitants. There is hardly anyone other than the crony of those in power, who is completely satisfied with what the government has to offer. Even then, many of these, apparently content have obtained dual nationalities and secured themselves by investing abroad so as to flee the country when struck by adverse circumstances. The poor of course, are left to fend for themselves!

Not that the government has never bothered about the poor or the labour class, Plethora of statutes have been legislated specifically aimed to benefit low grade employees and daily wage earners. After the Eighteenth (Constitution) Amendment of 2010 and with the abolition of the concurrent legislative list, labour [its welfare and all other related matters] is a provincial subject. The Federal government formed a Human Resource Development Ministry to look after the affairs of the Federal Labour Ministry. Constitutional experts back in 2010 expressed their apprehension about labour laws due to the Parliament’s non-serious approach before devolving this department to the provinces that lacked the capacity to legislate on this issue. Consequently, sufferers are none other than the hard-working and poor labour class that comprises a formidable figure of 65.50 million (Economic Survey of Pakistan 2017-18 and Labour Force Survey 2017-18 by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics) making Pakistan the ninth largest country with available human workforce.

It is a fact that workforce cannot be restricted to remain in a particular area within the country. People will look anywhere for jobs because of which, there is massive inter-provincial movement. Furthermore, in the absence of permanent employment, daily wage earners are not bound to work in one place which means that they would be subjected to not only multiple provincial laws but also inconsistent employment record. Contingent on these harsh ground realities, how can the benefits envisaged in various laws reach every single labourer who may or may not be aware of the rights that he/she is entitled to and which can be claimed from the government?

The ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude of both federal and provincial governments to the Supreme Court’s instructions in (2016) 114 TAX 385 (S.C. Pak.) with reference to passage of amendments to important labour law enactments is obvious from their approach towards the misery of the working class in the event of Covid-19 epidemic. Since 2010, and especially after 2016, the parliaments have slept over labour law, an item, lowest on their priority list. With speed of lightning, legislation is done where it involves parliamentarians’ pay packages and/or any other of their rights and privileges or extensions in service tenure but when it comes to the poor, no one cries out for them. Resultantly, as Covid-19 epidemic swept across the country, the principal sufferers were the daily wage earners. Rather than retrieving billions lying with different institutions in the head of Workers Welfare Fund (WWF) and Employees Old Age Benefit Institution (EOBI) fund, the governments were beseeching the public to come to their rescue.

According to an authentic source, another looming threat adding to the afflictions of the poor is that by 2027 EOBI funds are set to dry up depriving pensioners from their monthly incomes. Instead of taking any cognizance, this matter has been placed to simmer on the back stove. For a prospective government this would be like sitting on a time bomb that is soon to explode when thousands rise up to agitate for their rights and the state would have nothing in its kitty to pay them. Successive governments, so-called democratic or military are guilty of deliberately ignoring the mighty 65 million plus who are treated as lords during election campaigns but cruelly discarded once their ‘representatives’ come into power.

These morbid state of affairs clearly prove that this country may have been made for the pure but it is certainly not meant for the poor!


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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