May 6th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
The Minimum Wages Board Punjab has sent forth a draft recommendation of raising the minimum monthly wage from Rs17,500 to Rs20,000, for unskilled workers based on an increase of 14 percent in inflation and consumer price index (CPI) between July 2019 and March 2021, an official told Voicepk.net. However the implementation of this new monthly wage remains a cause for concern.
On the occasion of Labour Day, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar had announced that the minimum monthly wage of unskilled workers will be fixed at Rs20,000 per month in the province, adding that Punjab was the first province to raise the minimum wage threshold to Rs 20,000. Though, labour rights activists welcomed the increase in the monthly wage they said that lack of implementation has left out millions of workers being paid the bare minimum wage by employers in the province.
Abdul Qayyum, secretary of the Minimum Wages Board Punjab, said the board has prepared a draft recommending an increase of Rs2,500 in the monthly minimum wage following a meeting in March, adding that the board had last notified the minimum wage in July 2019.
“The board considered the increase in inflation as well as consumer price index during the period,” Qayyum said. Other factors given consideration are needs of a worker and his family, general level of wages, cost of living and relative living standards, he said.
The board had asked the stakeholders to make their suggestions and objections known within a month regarding the increase in wages of labourers, he added. He said the board sought input from representatives of employers and workers in the meeting.
Qayyum said the Minimum Wages Board will hold a meeting at the end of this month to finalise its recommendations and send it to the provincial cabinet for approval. The notification will be issued once the cabinet approves the recommendations of the board. He said the increase will take effect on July 1 across the province.
The board sets minimum monthly wages for unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers under the Punjab Minimum Wages Act 2019. It also regulates wages of civil, mechanical and electrical trades in the province.
According to the last notification issued by the Punjab finance ministry in September 2019, the monthly minimum wage (for 26 days of work) of unskilled workers including sweepers, coolies, attendants, watchmen, messengers, was set at Rs 17,923 in nine districts of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Sargodha, Bahawalpur, Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan while it set at Rs 17,500 for rest of districts in Punjab.
For semi-skilled workers like carpenters, cooks, chief gardeners, and boatmen, the minimum monthly was set at Rs18,216 in the nine districts mentioned above while it was set at Rs17,533 in the rest of the districts in Punjab. The minimum daily wage of unskilled worker was fixed at Rs786 in big cities while it was fixed at Rs757 in small cities.
Khurshid Ahmad Khan,General Secretary of All Pakistan Wapda Hydro Workers Union, welcomed the announcement in the minimum wage but said the provincial government needs to do more to ensure implementation that workers across industries are paid accordingly. He said Pakistan had ratified the International Labour Organisation convention which calls for independent mechanism of labour inspections.
“There are less than 1,000 labour inspectors in government departments to monitor working conditions in millions of factories and workplaces in the country,” Khan said. He said the increase in minimum wage was meager in view of the rampant inflation in the country, making it increasingly difficult to house, feed, clothe and educate their children.
There are 72 laws in the country relating to working conditions and safety of workers across industries but none of them are properly implemented, he lamented. “We have written to the prime minister asking him to ensure the safety of workers under the laws,” Khan said, adding that safety of workers got the least importance with government leaders and industry owners, pointing out that scores of miners have died in accidents recently because of lack of safety standards and hazardous working conditions.
Farooq Tariq, member of the Haqooq-e-Khalq Movement, said the provincial government had no mechanism to ensure implementation of the monthly minimum wage in the province. “Workers in shops, guards and drivers in private companies and those working in informal sectors work 12 hours but are paid quite below the minimum wage set by the government,” he told Voicepk.net.
Tariq said his organisation was campaigning to raise the monthly minimum wage to Rs 40,000, a figure that will adequately cover the expenses of a worker’s family in the province. However, he said Rs 20,000 minimum wage would at least prompt workers in factories and informal sectors demand more from the employers who often underpay them regardless of the law.