Labour organisations demand social security for all citizens

Our Correspondent
Monday, Nov 20, 2023

KARACHI: Trade unions, labourers, youths and civil society activists on Sunday organised a protest march demanding social security, raise in wages and an end to policies dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The march was jointly held by the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), Home-Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF), and youth organisations Alternate and Shehri Awami Mehaz. It started at Regal Chowk and ended at the Karachi Press Club.

Labour leaders and rights activists Gul Rehman, Zehra Khan and Aqib Hussain led the march that was attended by thousands of workers, including men and women, political activists, students, youths and rights activists.

Many participants carried red flags and banners and shouted slogans against inflation and anti-poor policies.

They also raised the flags of Palestine to express solidarity with the Palestinian people and condemn the genocide in Gaza at the hands of the army of Israel.

Those who addressed the rally included Asad Iqbal Butt, Ramzan Memon, Rafiq Baloch, Dr Riaz Sheikh, Khalid Zadran, Wahid Baloch, Nuzhat Shireen, Saeed Baloch, Qazi Khizar, Akram Baloch, Kami Sid, Faiza Siddiqui, Saira Feroze, Himmat Ali, Saira Khan, Parveen Bano, Anny Yusuf, Ahsan Mohammad Advocate, Nooruddin Advocate, Iqbal Abro, Bilawal Khan and Shahzar Hussain.

Nasir Mansoor of the NTUF said the biggest issue of the people of Pakistan was the rising price hike, especially food inflation, unemployment and growing poverty. He said the political and religious parties of Pakistan had failed to come up with a solid strategy for resolve this burning issue.

He added that 70 years had passed since the independence of the country but the ruling civil and military elites had pushed the 78 per cent population of the country, which was 190 million people, to the verge of extreme poverty.

With the announcement of the polls date, the political elite had resurfaced with their catchy slogans to once again fool the Pakistani people, he lamented.

He was of the view that due to the wrong policies of the rulers, the country was facing the worst economic crisis of its history as the rate of inflation was 40 per cent while the food inflation was 50 to 60 per cent.

He bemoaned the fact that Pakistan had the least per capita income in South Asia coupled with the highest inflation. During the last five years, the Pakistani rupee had witnessed a devaluation of more than 50 per cent, which meant that the real income of the Pakistani people had been slashed by half, affecting their purchasing power badly, he remarked.

He said illegal and excessive taxes on petroleum products had further exacerbated the living conditions of the general public.

Zehra Khan of the HBWWF said the healthcare system in the country had been failed deliberately. The government hospitals had no medicines or healthcare facilities, leaving the poor people at the mercy of the private hospital mafia, she maintained.

During recent months, pharmaceutical companies had raised the prices of medicines by 80 per cent, she lamented, adding that the tariffs of gas and electricity had been increased sharply not only affecting the common people but also harming the agricultural and industrial production.

She shared that joblessness had risen sharply and 19 per cent of the labour force was currently jobless. Unemployment, poverty and inflation had increased the incidence of mental diseases and suicide to an alarming level, she said.

Gul Rahman said that instead of adopting some solid strategy for giving relief to the public, the ruling elite had been relying on even more loans from the IMF that had trapped billions of the people of developing countries in its debt, blocking their chances to progress and prosperity and enslaving them politically and economically.

The participants demanded that the minimum wage be fixed at Rs50,000 per month and the recent increase in minimum wage be applied to all the sectors, including agriculture.

It was also demanded that all the citizens be given social security and for this purpose one per cent social security tax be applied to the production of all organisations. Besides 0.5 per cent social security tax be imposed on those with the monthly income of more than Rs200,000 per month.

The marchers also demanded that the government subsidy on food items, medicines and public transport be restored.

The said the compensation of more than Rs1.25 billion for the affected families of Baldia factory fire was given to an insurance company by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) without consultation with the affected people which was condemnable. The hidden agreement between the ILO and the insurance company be made public, they demanded.

They also demanded that concession be given to the electricity consumers using up to 300 units.

All nonproductive expenses, including the defence expenses, be frozen for the next 10 years and cheaper electricity be provided to the export sector, they demanded.

The marchers also called for registering all the home-based workers and peasants with the social security and pension institutions.