Celebrating ‘achievements’ – one labourer at a time



“Labour Day is observed across the world to celebrate the achievements of workers,” is what they say.

If a worker has not achieved a day’s livelihood after a year of breathless toil and is still bound to sweat in the daily grind even on the International Labour Day while the city’s well-off casually lounge after a deliciously hectic meal, enjoying the pleasures of another public holiday, one may wonder what have the workers ‘achieved’ and what are the ‘celebrations’ for?

While the developed world observes the day in remembrance of various workers movements in their respective regions and cherish the accomplishments of labourers who on this day proudly walk the earth with a heightened sense of achievement, one may wonder what significance it holds in the Pakistani setting and how empowered the workers feel in this country.

Majority of the citizens from the lower middle to the upper economic class, ignorant of what the day may mean, enjoyed a lazy day home, some gathered with friends and families to spend some leisure time, others spent it as if it was an Eid holiday, while the organizations that work for labour rights took to the empty streets of the city and kept chanting slogans for labour rights.

As for the labourers themselves for whom this day is supposedly celebrated, they continued with their regular search for livelihood. They just could not afford a hungry day home.

To accompany them were journalists, doctors, barbers and policemen who also carried on with their routine work as if they don’t belong to the working class.

Reports proudly read, “Pakistan’s first labour policy was devised in 1972, in which, May 1 was declared an official holiday. This policy also formulated the creation of social security network, old age benefit schemes and workers welfare fund.” Really? Are all those sassy policy formulations benefitting the daily wager who still regularly ‘begs’ for work and either denies being a part of a labour organization or works far away from the ambit of these organizations?


Many daily wagers that Pakistan Today found to be at work on their day to rest showed indifference towards this day.

“This public holiday is not meant for us. I can’t have a holiday with empty pockets. A day without work is a day without wage and a day without wage is a day without food, this is as simple as that. If the government really wants us to rest on this day then it should give us at least a day’s wage on this day,” said Rehmat, a middle-aged agitated daily-wager who works at the iron furnace in the city suburbs.

“This is the day when the world celebrates achievements of workers like you. Are you not proud of being an honest daily-wager?” Pakistan Today asked Rehmat.

His sparkling white teeth glimmered in the hot and dark furnace environment when he laughed and said, “I have two sons and a daughter and a rented house for which I pay Rs 3000 per month. I work seven days a week from 7am to 5pm to earn a meager reward of Rs 500. My clothes are torn, my skin has tanned, my nails broken and my hands swollen, my back aches as if I am 70 years old while I have not crossed 30 and when I breathe I feel as if my lungs have gathered iron deposits. And after four long years of work I cannot afford a single day off which you say is meant for me? Are you kidding me? What is it to be proud of?”

“I have work to do,” he reached back to his work saying that he could not talk more as his employer would charge him for wasting time with journalists.

Various other workers, mostly daily-wagers, who render their services for the power looms, textile industry, construction works, brick kilns, painting, cleaning and vehicle repairing, also including hand cart operators, coolies and those who say that they would do anything for a wage, had similar views to share.

While many workers showed indifference to the day, others were angry for they could not afford the luxury of a holiday. Some also vented out anger on the people celebrating the day.


“The government, these organizations, they are all the same. They say they work for us but they have been ripping us off. All they think of is about themselves. While sitting in their air-conditioned offices, they say they are making policies for us while actually they are devising ways to extract more money from the labourer,” said Yaseen Muraad, a daily-wager who used to work for the textile industry.

Yaseen now independently works as a painter. “I am better off this way. At least I know I will be paid once I am done with the paint job. Those union leaders use us to put pressure on the factory owners and then later warm their pockets after striking a deal with the factory owners while we continue to wait for the time when our rights will be guaranteed.”


On the other hand, various organizations organized rallies and protests and chanted slogans in favour of labour rights. They demanded the implementation of labour laws in the country and asked the government to improve labourer’s conditions in the country. A large number of people joined the organizations in their rallies for the solemn observance of the big day.