THE long-delayed process to raise the minimum wage in Sindh as promised in the last budget provides a window into the careless way the concerns of the poor are handled by the state.
First of all, it was not necessary to allow the process of issuing a notification to take so long. Two separate notifications have been sent, by two departments, creating confusion about the status of the announcement.
The first notification went out in December, and the second in March. The lack of coordination between various departments of the Sindh government that this shows is startling, and industrialists now have an opportunity to take advantage of the confusion and refuse to pay the higher minimum wage till the matter is clarified.
But bureaucratic incompetence aside, the minimum wage — upon which the majority of workers in the country depend for their livelihood — also raises important issues for other provinces.
Know more: Sindh delays notification on minimum wages
How exactly is it determined what the minimum wage ought to be? Setting benchmarks of this sort, like the poverty line or the minimum wage, is a very complex exercise and touches on important philosophical issues, such as what is the minimum nutritional intake or educational level that a citizen should consider entitled to as a right.
The poverty line in Pakistan is set by assistance from the World Bank, where much of the debate and measurement required for the exercise is carried out. But how exactly is a minimum wage decided?
Without proper data, for instance the labour force participation survey, how can the state even decide what the minimum wage ought to be? The last labour force survey was conducted two years ago, and the process has become irregular.
No major effort is made to gather real-time data about the labour force, making it very difficult to believe that the yardstick being used to determine the minimum wage is anything other than arbitrary. This seems to be just another sad reminder of how the poor are treated as an afterthought by the state.
Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2015