KARACHI:Former Finance Minister and eminent economist Dr Hafiz A. Pasha has indicated that still over 100 million people in Pakistan are jobless despite the lifting of the COVID-19 lockdown. “Our estimate is that after COVID-19 and so-called recovery still, the unemployment rate is not less than 5% which is the largest rate in the county history.

He was speaking online at the launching ceremony of a report on “Labour and Employment in Pakistan” organized by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) Pakistan in collaboration with the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) at a local hotel, according to a statement issued on Sunday. The report is based on both rigorous economic analysis and on the intention to make Pakistan a better and more progressive society, serving all its members.

Dr. Pasha said the Finance Advisor to Prime Minister Shaukat Tareen has agreed that out of 55 million workers about 23 million were affected by Coronavirus (COVID-19), consequently, most of them were unemployed or their income was decreased.

“So our finance minister does not know that about 7.7 million people were unemployed before the COVID,” he remarked. Dr. Pasha said he met with a waiter at a McDonald restaurant, who was an MBA from a local university. “He told me that he was mostly relying on customers’ tips.”

He said the majority of workers are not getting minimum wages, fixed by the provincial governments. Women workers even get less amount being paid to male workers, he added. Dr. Pasha pointed out that the majority of workers are getting even the social security facilities available for registered workers. Today, the total coverage of social security institution is around 8.7 million, whereas 480,000 retired workers are getting pension. He said EOBI and Workers Welfare Fund should be given to the provinces.

He said trade unions have declined in Pakistan and currently only one percent of workers are organized in trade unions. In China, half of the workers are in the even in India trade unions are more organized.

Dr. Pasha has recommended in the report that priority should be given to promoting the development of sectors that are labour intensive and where the elasticity of employment with respect to output growth is larger. These sectors can be agriculture, manufacturing (especially small and medium enterprises), construction and private services.

He suggested that priority should be given to targeting fiscal incentives, appropriate pricing policies, bank credit and services to these sectors. Speaking on the occasion, former Advisor to the Chief Ministers of Sindh and Balochistan and senior economist, Dr. Kaiser Bengali said Pakistan’s the economy is a casino economy.

Our economy is currently mostly standing on agriculture and industry. “We have weaker legs but a large body.” He said Pakistan economy is on a ventilator. He said he knew many youths are driving Uber and Careem cars after doing a Master degree. “It is a middle-class poverty because they don’t have a salary for an entire month. After three weeks, their salary is finished.” He said you can find white-collar families are begging on Karachi’s roads, they are not professional beggars and most of them belong to middle-class families.”

He said the production regime should be changed to employ more labour force. Currently social security, EOBI facilities are available only for formal workers and that number is shrinking. Agriculture workers who constitute a major portion of the labour force have never been covered under any social security scheme. It is the responsibility of the state to provide social security to all its citizens.

Director of Aurat Foundation Ms. Mahnaz Rahman said Pakistan is ranked at 151 out of 153 under the global gender parity index. She pointed out that women are not calculated in the labour force and currently official statistics indicated that only 25.2 percent of women are part of the country’s labour force.

Secretary of Labour, Government of Sindh Rasheed Solangi said Sindh has a credit to lead labour legislation after the 18th Amendment in Constitution. Sindh organized the first provincial Tripartite Labour Conference in which the government increased the representation of labour representatives on boards of labour welfare institutions.

In 2018 Home-based Workers Act was made in Sindh and its rules have been passed by the provincial Cabinet. Sindh Employees Social Security Institution (SESSI) has registered 665,000 workers. In his welcome remarks Dr. Jochen Hippler, Country Director of FES Pakistan said that problems of unemployment, discrimination, dangerous job and injustice still needed corrections. He hoped that serious efforts would be made to change the situation.

More unity among workers is needed, he said that unions are in fact pillars of democracy and labour movements. The event was attended by the senior leadership and representatives of trade union federations, labour organizations, policy makers, Employers’ Federation of Pakistan, civil society organizations, academia, youth and media from all four provinces of Pakistan.

Representatives of the labour and trade unions appreciated the research work of Dr. Hafiz Pasha and publication of the report by FES Pakistan. Those who also spoke on the occasion included Karamat Ali, Executive Director of PILER; Khalid Mahmood of Labour Education Foundation (LEF); senior trade union leaders Hanif Ramay, Habibuddin Junaidi, Abdul Haque, Shakeela Asghar, Mirza Maqsood, Mahar Safdar and others spoke on the occasion.