Very few people understood the rationale behind his presidential speech, however; on my way to an ethnic French restaurant downtown his words hit me with full force. En route to our favorite leisure places, most of us barely think about the amount of money we would spend in one evening and the fact that it might be a lot more than what most people make in Pakistan after working hard for a month. Neither do we think twice before paying for our entertainment, whereas when most of us hire domestic help or other helpers such as plumbers and gardeners for housekeeping, we negotiate the cheapest possible rates.
It is very unfortunate that many amongst us do not even understand the basic concept of minimum wage and why is it set by the government. The current minimum wage rate — which is estimated to be around Rs 8,000 — was set to safeguard the interest of laborers who are unable to fight for their rights and demand a decent sum of money for the work they do. However, the minimum wage requirement is sidetracked because neither do the poor daily wage earners and domestic workers have any knowledge about such economic policies neither do we, as their employers, ensure that the policy is strictly followed.
Most of us conveniently blame politicians for hoarding or swindling money and transferring them to Swiss bank accounts, however, we do not realise that we are no better than them. Do we think about the welfare of the people we employ? If we will not give them the opportunity to earn as much as they deserve how can we expect them to do justice to their work? Do we ever think about the people who earn daily wages and lose a substantial amount of their monthly income because of the violent strikes and shutdowns in various cities?
Most of us work and every year we demand our respective employers to evaluate our performance. Some of us even fight with our immediate supervisors for a raise, however, very few of us think about giving an increment to our servants. Or is it just because we assume that the affects of price hikes only apply to us?
There is a pertinent need for our society to understand that taking advantage of their predicaments is not only against the principles of basic human rights but also has severe repercussions on the economy. We fail to understand that by not paying labour at par or above the minimum set wage, we consciously push the poor to become poorer in an economy where the rich keep getting richer — negating the whole idea of equal distribution of wealth.
It is ironic that the richest and most resourceful people in our country misuse the state policies the most. It is an established fact that many people belonging to the ruling class, entertainment business and other industries either evade taxes or pay a meager amount which does not correspond to their annual income. Recent statistics compiled by National Database and Registration Authority has revealed that an estimated number of 2.38 million Pakistanis who are ‘rolling’ in wealth do not pay taxes at all.
What these rich people fail to realise is that when they evade taxes, they deprive the poor from gaining access to the basic amenities of life. If rich people pay taxes in accordance with the current tax mandate, the state would have access to more funds which will not only help generate employment but also assist in revising and eventually increasing the minimum wage rate. The most astounding fact is that many Pakistanis belonging to the elite section of the society — who consider themselves above the law — can afford to pay twice as much as the tax they are liable to pay, however, still fail to do so out of sheer greed and disregard for civic values.
One of our former prime ministers, perhaps without realising the consequences of his words, took the tax debate to the next level. Whilst talking on a television show on a private news channel he proposed a policy entailing a uniform tax rate of 10 per cent to be imposed on everyone in Pakistan regardless of how much money they make. His proposition evidently favored the rich business community and people at the uppermost echelon of the corporate ladders with complete disregard to the welfare of middle income household who would get decimated if such a policy is ever imposed by the Federal Board of Revenue. Being the owner of several sugar mills, the former prime minister was clearly trying to increase his disposable income without holistically thinking about the masses.
Most of us, including some renowned politicians, talk about turning Pakistan into a welfare state but do we even know what it takes to actually become one? A welfare state works on many principles and one of the most essential components of such a framework entails the government undertaking responsibility to protect the well-being of its citizens by paying special attention to those under financial duress. How do we expect the government to play this role without our help? The state cannot generate funds on its own to help the poor. The state needs our support and the day we all realise this, Pakistan will automatically become a welfare state where every individual will have equal rights and opportunities.
It is time for each one of us to understand the repercussions of having a myopic approach towards life. We must join hands to help the suffering masses in our own capacity.