March 2020




By Rizwan Ghilzai : March 24, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday approved the economic relief package aimed to counter the overall effect of novel coronavirus on the poor and industrial sector in the wake of suspension of trade activities across the country.

The decision was taken during a meeting of government’s economic team which met under the chairmanship of PM Imran on Monday.

The premier was briefed on the current economic situation in the wake of coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Expressing satisfaction over the availability of food items and other commodities of daily use, PM Imran approved the economic relief package according to which Rs3,000 would be given to seven million daily wagers monthly.

The premier also approved a Rs200 billion relief package for the exporters.

PM Imran will announce a tax incentive for the construction industry on Tuesday (today).

He directed the authorities concerned to keep a vigilant eye on the entire situation saying the poor and the under-privileged should not suffer due to the prevailing circumstances.

On Sunday, Adviser to the PM on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh met Special Assistant to the PM on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar to discuss and finalise the contours of the special relief package.

To facilitate the poor, a mobile kitchen soup facility has been launched under the government’s flagship poverty alleviation Ehsas programme.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar inaugurated the first ‘Ehsas-Saylani Langar on Wheels’ unit at the Faizabad bus station, the junction of twin cities Islamabad-Rawalpindi.

Ehsas and the Saylani Welfare International Trust (SWIT) have joined hands to run the facility through which cooked food would be provided to the needy, particularly labourers and daily-wage workers.

Mobile vans aimed to combat hunger will discourage people from congregating at one spot for free food collection and will serve at various points in cities including public places, impoverished neighbourhoods and hospitals while explicitly ensuring dignity and social distance for the safety of people.

As people are at the risk of small income generating opportunities due to the pandemic emergency in the country, this food aid concept will be stretched out soon to a bigger, better and faster scale across all major cities of Pakistan as part of the Ehsas framework.

“Feeding the poor and deserving is central to the prime minister’s vision of a welfare state. Ehsas realizes that the viral outbreak has exacerbated an escalating poverty that will affect labourers and daily-wage workers the most, as people are being bound to stay at homes,” Dr Sania said.

“The Ehsas-Saylani Langar on Wheels will not only address the hunger and nutritional needs of the impoverished, but also provide us with an opportunity to connect with them, respond to their requirements and educate them about precautionary guidelines to fight the war against coronavirus.”

Last year in October, Prime Minister Imran Khan had launched the Ehsas-Saylani Langar initiative to provide free food to the poor, laborers and homeless across the country.

Since then, several Ehsas-Saylani Langars have been opened and several others are under construction to feed the poor.

Under the umbrella of Ehsaas, the Langar on Wheels initiative will expand its capacity through public-private partnership to distribute food by removing barriers that prevent access to underserved areas and will allow for fast and flexible delivery in line with precautionary protocols


Aamir Yasin March 27, 2020

RAWALPINDI: The lockdown ordered by the provincial government in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus has caused inconvenience to many residents trying to carry on with day-to-day affairs, but the worst affected are domestic workers and daily-wagers who have lost their source of income.

Unlike last Thursday, when the city was thrumming with activity and labourers found work in markets and on construction sites, this week many people could be seen sitting in main squares waiting for any work that may come their way with markets and construction sites closed.

Although grocery stores, pharmacies and petrol stations are open, vehicle workshops, tyre shops and plumbers’ shops stayed closed. The government has allowed the grain market to open to maintain the supply chain of edibles in the city, so some labourers were able to find work loading and unloading goods from vehicles.

Public transport also remained off the roads, and there were fewer taxis seen as well. Some private vehicles were observed, but largely people chose to stay indoors.

“I have a family of eight and I work as a labourer, but for the last three days there has not been any work in the market. I come daily in search of work but find nothing and rely on charity food,” Mohammad Khan, a labourer in Raja Bazaar, said.

He said there was no work other than at the grain market, and most shopkeepers have their own labour. He said he did not know how many days he could depend on charity.

Musarat Bibi, a domestic worker in the Defence Housing Authority, said she was working in three houses, but after the spread of the coronavirus and the lockdown in the city, she had to stay home.

“Although the owner of the house assured that I will be paid my full salary for this month, it is not sure yet whether they will continue the work next month,” she said, adding that her husband was now jobless after the shopping mall he worked in closed.

People also found it difficult to get to the hospital because of the lack of private public transport.

Ishtiaq Hussain, who lives in Jhanda Chichi, told Dawn: “My sister suffers from asthma and needs immediate medical help in case of an emergency. Yesterday, she suffered an asthma attack but there was no taxi or rickshaw to take her.”

Mr Hussain said he borrowed a motorcycle to take his sister to the hospital, where the concerned doctor was not available. He added that the on-duty doctor in the emergency ward gave them some tips for the future.

Arya Mohallah resident Farhan Ahmed said his son was suffering from fever and he had to take him to a private hospital nearby, where he had to pay Rs1,000.

The administrations of the Deputy Headquarters Hospital, Holy Family Hospital and Benazir Bhutto Hospital (BBH) said fewer patients visited than usual.

A doctor at the BBH emergency department also said there was a reduced influx of patients, possibly because of restricted movement.

Many people were also forced to carry on without being able to access necessary repair work.

Mohammad Umer, from Chaklala Scheme III, said his motorcycle engine began to suddenly leak oil but he could not find an open workshop so he had to leave the motorcycle parked at home.

He said all the markets were closed and there were no engine repair shops open, adding that he would have to wait a week or two for shops to open to get his vehicle repaired.

Sajid Mehmood, who lives in Jhanda Chichi, also had to leave his motorcycle at home because there were no shops open to repair the tyre tube of his vehicle.

“I went to Murree Road but did not find any open shops,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2020



Shazia Hasan March 18, 2020

KARACHI: A representative body of workers, the National Labour Council, called a joint press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Tuesday to air concerns about the circumstances of workers, especially workers of factories and workshops, many of whom happen to be daily wagers, in case of closure of factories and workshops due to the coronavirus.

Habibuddin Junaidi of the Peoples Labour Bureau said that the government should constitute a task force to determine the financial losses to the industry and companies and find means to ensure workers’ rights. “Many of the workers may lose their means of income in the advent of closure of industry. We ask of the government to set up a special fund to ensure their regular income,” he said.

“We also demand a proper screening system along with taking necessary protective measures at workplaces to check the spread of the virus,” he said.

Nasir Mansoor of the National Trade Union Federation drew the attention of the media to the federal government which is “taking things too easy”.

“This is a global issue and all governments need to help their citizens even though our government is still in denial as it is not doing much for the people,” he said.

Free tests, medicines for coronavirus patients demanded

“There should be free testing for coronavirus, there should be free medicines too,” he said.

“Then many businesses have also closed without caring to pay their employees which is not good. They may close or send their workers on leave but with pay,” he said.

Zulfiqar Shah of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research said that the country had a 65 million labour force while 75 per cent belonged to the informal sector. “We appreciate the measures taken by the Sindh government regarding the virus but it does not include the workers. How will the economic impact of it all hit them is something to be considered,” he said.

He also said that 60pc of Pakistan’s exports were textile and most of the orders were from Europe, which is not doing well. “The export orders are getting cancelled, which will have a direct effect on the workers. So if they don’t die of coronavirus, they certainly will die from hunger,” he said.

Ferhat Perveen of the National Organisation for Working Communities pointed out that the Sindh Protection Unit must have data about the most badly affected areas where people may need food or medicine. She said they also needed testing and health facilities. “The government already has data about the needy thanks to the Benazir Income Support Programme, so they should know who to reach out to. The lady health workers here are also at risk,” she pointed out.

The labour leaders underlined the need to have close coordination among all the provinces and federal government departments to face this natural calamity.

They welcomed holding of a video conference by the heads of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) member countries on how to tackle the coronavirus threat and appreciated the decisions made by all the regional countries.

The labour leaders demanded that much-delayed summit of Saarc should be held as soon as possible in Pakistan as this is the right time to meet and discuss pressing issues of the region.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2020


Khaleeq Kiani  March 20, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Projecting at least $10 billion losses to the national economy because of coronavirus pandemic, the government is considering an “economic emergency bailout package” within a week to address the likely short-to-medium term liquidity crunch to various sectors of the economy.

A series of meetings involving various federal ministries and divisions, provincial and regional governments and the international lender and donor community on Thursday showed the likely impact of unfolding global crises on Pakistan would be no less than $10-15bn according to conservative estimates.

Representatives from the Planning Commission, various ministries and provinces including Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) participated in these meetings to assess the expected impact on the national and provincial economies.

Proposals for emergency bailout included a further cut to key interest rate of the State Bank of Pakistan and instructions to the tax authorities to adopt a friendly approach to businesses instead of raids and pressure for tax recoveries. Officials also suggested utilisation of Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP)-Ehsas Funds to support families whose livelihoods were at risk due to closure of small businesses, restaurants, retail business, daily wagers and factory workers etc.

The estimates of losses and proposals would be presented to the National Security Committee (NSC) next week for a final decision on bailout package. The final shape of the package would depend on the overall big picture to be presented to the NSC. The “Planning Commission would present this before the NSC”, said a statement issued by planning commission adding the government was “keeping a close eye on the situation and will consider providing an economic emergency bailout to address the likely short to medium-term liquidity crunch”.

For example, the ministry of commerce reported that it anticipated $2-4bn loss to exports depending on how the prolonged the crisis becomes and its effect on demand in global markets. Similar impact could also hit remittances from overseas Pakistanis because of lockdowns and reduced work opportunities in major economies where Pakistanis go to work and send money back.

It was also reported that federal board of revenue could alone suffer about Rs300bn losses as a major port, business and commercial activities in the southern port city of Karachi was grinding to a halt. Moreover, the livelihood of a large population was also at risk.

It was also reported that a large section of the rural economy was dependent on wheat harvest and sugarcane production and the activity they generate from April to June.

The representatives from Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan said the livelihoods of their populations was mostly dependent on tourism and transportation which have also come to a halt.

An official statement said a special inter-ministerial and inter-provincial meeting on impact of COVID-19 and way forward concluded that government was “set to intervene to safeguard national economy from adverse impacts of Corona pandemic”.

The statement quoted the Deputy Chair­man Planning Commission Jahanzeb Khan as saying that there no food shortage was expected due to Corona, as sufficient stocks were available to meet the immediate needs.

A representative from the Commerce ministry reported that due to the closure of major port operations and retailers globally, reduced global demand was likely to lead to a reduced global economic growth. Officials from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs said that efforts were being made to ensure uninterrupted port operations for the continued supply of essential commodities.

Officials from the Ministry of National Food Security informed that Pakistan will not face any food shortage as Pakistan has sufficient stocks of essential items to meet the immediate needs.

Member Social Sector of the planning commission Dr Shabnum Sarfraz highlighted the need to augment the human resources at the forefront of fighting the epidemic and urged the health ministry to engage the medical and nursing students to add to the capacity of the current health staff.

Besides the existing commitments of more than $600 million from UN agencies, the World Bank and Asian development bank and Japan, DFID of UK also promised to extend financial help to support livelihood.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2020


Saleem Shahid March 21, 2020

QUETTA: Seven coal miners were killed and three others injured on Friday in a gas explosion in a mine in Degari coalfield, some 60km east of here.

Sources said the powerful explosion took place when over a dozen miners were working deep inside the mine of a private company.

Chief Inspector of Mines for Balochistan Shafqat Fayyaz confirmed the death toll and said the three miners who were injured in the blast were taken to a hospital for treatment. “The explosion took place due to presence of methane gas inside the mine,” he said.

The sources said that miners were digging coal when a spark caused a blast, which closed the mouth of the mine. Because a portion of the mine also caved in the miners were trapped deep inside it.

The leaders of Mineworkers Federation said that after the blast a fire broke out in the mine. “As a result, the miners burnt to death inside the mine.”

Rescue workers and engineers from the Chief Inspector Directorate rushed to the site and launched a rescue operation.

According to the president of Mining Labour Union, Mohammad Iqbal Yousafzai, the miners were sent to extract coal inside the mine even though it was a holiday. The mine belonged to the Surabji Coal Company.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2020



The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter Updated March 02, 2020

LAHORE: Participants of a national workers’ convention held here on Sunday demanded introduction of ‘living wages’ instead of ‘minimum wages’ mechanism, keeping in view the proportionate inflation.

At the convention organised by the Labour Education Foundation, in collaboration with the Punjab Industrial Relations Institute, Township, they also demanded reserved seats for labour in the national as well as provincial assemblies like those for women and minorities for an effective representation of the working class in the decision-making processes.

Attended by over 300 home-based, brick kiln, domestic and powerloom workers from across the country, the convention discussed labour rights situation and the way forward. The moot, through a joint declaration, sought fixing Rs30,000 per month as the living wages for unskilled workers, besides an effective inspection system for factories to prevent industrial accidents, ensuring issuance of employment letters to every worker, and fixing of three-month duration for adjudication of cases in courts of labour and compensation commissioner.

Demanding early and effective legislation for protecting rights of home-based workers, forming anti-harassment committees in hosiery and garments factories and ending contract-based employment system in all sectors, including brick kilns, the participants also highlighted the need for setting up tripartite committees at provincial and district levels to speed up resolution of industrial disputes and regular meetings of district vigilance bodies.

Punjab Labour Minister Ansar Majeed Khan, who was the chief guest at the convention, claimed the government was going to make it binding for every contractor to get a no objection certificate (NOC) from the department requiring

that all the labour the contractor would employ would have social security cover. He said workers would also be allowed to directly approach the labour department for registration, even without employer’s reccomendation.

Recalling that Prime Minister Imran Khan, when he was in opposition, had been supporting fixing the minimum wages equal to 10 grams of gold, labour leader Farooq Tariq said now the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government should at least fix the minimum wages at Rs40,000 per month as the first step, ensure health and safety measures at industries, besides ending child labour and bonded labour from all sectors.

He suggested the government should ensure payment of full wages a worker deserved instead of announcing subsidies for the poor, if it wanted economic stability in the country.

Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) trade union leader Hassan Rana called for ensuring issuance of employment letter to each worker as the first step for protecting labour rights.

Labour Qaumi Movement’s Aslam Meraj and Ittehad Workers Union Carpet Industry’s Niaz Khan also spoke, while LEF Director Khalid Mahmood Malik and IRI Deputy Director Muhammad Shahid thanked the participants for sharing their views at the moot.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2020


By Fatima Rehman Published: March 8, 2020

KARACHI: Women and children have been the cheapest source of labour in Pakistan and seemingly, nobody cared enough to end their predicament, claimed speakers while addressing a session titled ‘Yeh haath salamat hain jab tak’ [Till these hands can labour], at the first Women Conference Arts Council on Saturday.

“We, unfortunately, live in a classist society where the working class, regardless of gender, has a lot to deal with. Now, imagine the struggle of a female labourer in [this] society that is, more so, spoilt by and reeking of patriarchy,” said poet Kishwar Naheed, painting a dreary picture of the ordeal of women labourers.

Speaking along the same lines, National Organisation for Working Communities executive director Farhat Parveen referred to the confusion surrounding the definitions of “work and labour” and said that it was due to this ambiguity that people were not able to “fairly evaluate the performance of home-based female workers, who are mostly underpaid and more often than not unpaid.”

She urged for initiatives by government bodies including the National Database Regulatory Authority to collect and document data on home-based female workers so that their plight, as well as their contribution to the economy, could be highlighted.

In this respect, Haleema Laghari, who has been associated with the Lady Health Workers (LHW) Programme for the past several years, said that the programme had been thriving post-2008, claiming that prior to that, the “injustice and failure of the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government to allocate budget for labourers” had hampered its operations.

However, “amid tyranny rose revolutionaries,” she said, adding that their rigourous efforts bore fruit and the programme now worked in alliance with network of national and international bodies in Japan, Nepal, Bangladesh and across Pakistan, continuing its struggle and fight for the rights of lady health workers.

Like lady health workers, many a courageous woman in Pakistan have fought, rebelled and gone against the tide to fight the injustice meted out to female labourers and women in general.

Expressing confidence in them, Naheed, drawing the session to a close, hoped that the endeavours “of such dissidents would change the [patriarchal] narrative in the coming years.”

Fatima Majeed of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum also spoke on the occasion, among others.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2020.