LAHORE: Political parties, civil society and non-government organisations (NGOs) Thursday marked the International Labourers Day with full gusto, offering a stark contrast to all poor workers who continued labouring the whole day to earn a meagre livelihood for their starving families. They worked without having any knowledge of their rights except that they would have to bring something home so as not to have their loved ones sleep another night on a growling stomach.
Despite rallies, seminars, conferences and protests, a question still looms large regarding the use of all such festivities arranged to salute the day. The have-nots may realise the blessings bestowed on them, and get assurances on what little they have, but they would never pin hope on something that remains far out of their reach.
For most of the labourers, the International Labour Day dawned like any other ordinary day, with nothing extraordinary happening that could wrought a change in the lives of the poor. The daily wagers were seen lining the city squares and roadsides, waiting for labour as the blessed strata continued enjoying their official holiday in their gadgetry homes, enjoying sumptuous food.
When asked, a labourer waiting for work told The Post that a country where men do not even bother offering a glass of water to a poor to chill the heat, ‘rights never matter.’
He demanded the government provide free medical, education and basic eatables at affordable prices to ease the common lot.
The day ended like any other day, with several lady workers unaware of their rights. Labour laws, worker’s rights, UN charter and NGOs efforts continue to be for them mere words jotted down on a white paper, lacking meaning and relevance. ‘We work to keep hunger at bay,’ many added.
Such marginalised sections of society, untouched by events like Labours Day, carry on, slaving away their lives to ensure roti at the end of the day. The Post met such women workers on May Day, only to be told firmly that ‘we know one thing alone: If we do not work, there will be no food in the evening.’
Rani, a housemaid, who travels from Green Town to work in a house at Habibullah Road, maintained her ignorance and lack of interest for the day, saying ‘Memsahib is nice, but she will be angry if I miss a day. There will then be no food for my children, no clothes, nothing,” she added.
Another Saima sews clothes for a livelihood. Her husband had passed away a few years back, leaving the responsibility of two daughters and a baby boy on ‘my feeble shoulders.’ “My in-laws are not in a position to bear all expenses, a fact which forced me to let grief aside for I cannot afford two luxuries, either to sit at home and do nothing or else to neglect my children. A balance must be struck to ensure things run smoothly,” she added.
She told The Post she works from dawn to dusk to earn food and education for my children, hence ‘I have no time to waste on rights. It is a comfort for the elite, for ladies who work in air-conditioned offices and earn big.’
Shamim is a beautician of a small parlour. Married to an addict, she was forced to make use of her meagre skills to open a salon to help make ends meet. Regarding May Day, she laughed for ‘a holiday at schools and offices means a rush at my place. It is money for me,’ she added while another, a widow of a police constable who lost his life in line of duty, Gul Bibi said her life as a street-vendor selling hand-woven woollen blankets and unstitched embroidery summer suits ‘leaves little time behind for fancies like May Day.’
Nurturing a distrust of government functionaries, she said it ‘is hard for me to get dues and salaries of my martyred husband. They treat me as if I am asking for favours.’
Such women who continue to work, not to ward off boredom, but to earn a little Rs 50 a day may never know the importance of Labour Day, let alone its significance for them, but what they do understand is the harsh reality of life, that without scrubbing floors, stitching clothes till needles make tiny little holes in their hands, they would die, albeit slowly, but without doubt. For them, questions pertaining to labour laws and rights may just be a leaf in the wind, here and there and everywhere, without having any affect on their lives. “It is a day where the rich harp on women’s rights while sitting cushioned in their million-door homes,” they added.
Packages Muttahida Labour Union leader Abdur Rouf requested the government of Pakistan and Sweden and ILO to take notice that packages factory, in which over 5000 labourers are working, had no labour union and owners exploited labourers according to their interests. As many as 3500 labours get 26 days salary with deduction of four days of Sundays in a month. He said that he was also threatened by packages owners for raising voice against exploitation of labourers and also requested the honorary chairman of Sweden consulate Ali Haider to take action.
National Traders Union Federation of Pakistan demanded end to IRO 2000, fixation of minimum wages at Rs 6000 and restoration of the old policy of grant of daughter’s dowry.
Source: The Post, 2/5/2008