Thousands of government employees hired in various Public Sector Development Programme (PSDPs) have been denied minimum wage as their salaries have remained static for the last seven years, Pakistan Today has learnt.
Despite the setting of minimum wage at Rs 13,000 per month by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in his budget speech, the ground reality for the PSDP workers is very different.
Per details, employees are hired in PSDP for the duration of the projects undertaken by various government departments. The employees in grade 1-4 – majority of whom work as naib qasids, drivers, baildaars, cooks and peons in various projects – are receiving the minimum salary fixed for the year 2008. Most of them receive salaries ranging from Rs 7,000 to Rs 10,000. That is considerably less than the Rs 13,000 minimum wage set by the government in the 2015-16 budget.
Claiming credit for ensuring welfare of the masses, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said at the time: “For the welfare of the labour class and in line with increase in the pay of government employees, the minimum wage rate is being increased from Rs 12,000 to Rs 13,000 per month.”
While historically, it has been the private sector which has flouted the provisions for minimum wage in a bid to pay its lower staff meagre salaries for full-time work, it appears that the government has joined the club that pays starvation wages to their low-level employees as the staff hired in grade 1-4 for the execution of PSDP projects are getting paid as per the office memorandum issued in August 2008.
Discussion has often surrounded whether the minimum wage can even sustain a typical family, with study after study showing that this is not the case. So, it is even more disappointing to learn that the government is abdicating its responsibility to ensure even the minimum wage for thousands of workers working in public sector projects of Defence, Finance, Industries, Information, Interior, Law, Justice and Human rights, Telecom, National Health, Development Division, Ports and Shipping and Railways.
A source privy to the developments told Pakistan Today that despite constant reminders to Finance Ministry about the plight of the hapless workers, they have done nothing. The concerned departments have reminded the AGPR’s Office time and time again to take action in this regard but their pleas have been met with a typical “we can’t do anything”. Additionally, the 5% annual increment does not apply to many of the PSDP projects as most of them are completed within one year.
The 18th amendment has devolved the subject of labor to provinces and the federal government is using this development as a cover to shield itself from the responsibility of implementing its own wage standards for which it has claimed credit numerous times.
“The subject of ‘labour’ has been devolved to provinces since the 18th amendment. Thus it doesn’t come under Ministry of Finance,’ said Additional Secretary and spokesperson of the Ministry of Finance Dr Shujjat Ali.
When asked how it was possible that the federal government was taking no responsibility to keep track of the provinces’ performance in this regard, he said: “You should contact Ministry of Human Resource Development, they can answer your queries.”
When Pakistan Today contacted Ministry of Human Resource Development Deputy Secretary Iftikhar Ahmed to find out what his Ministry was doing in this matter, he said: “Now, since Labour has been devolved, every province has a labour ministry which regulates and makes sure that minimum wage law is being followed, be it a public institution or a private project. In Islamabad, the Department of Labour under the Ministry of Interior sees to it that the minimum wage law is being followed by public and private entities.”
Legally binding minimum wage is now a universally acknowledged and widely used method employed to regulate the labour market. Pakistan is a member of International Labour Organisation (ILO). The federal government has to make sure that a fair remuneration is offered to every worker whether they are in the public or the private sector.