THE findings of a new global ILO study that 29pc of key workers in essential services, covering health, cleaning and sanitation, education, food systems, security, transportation and manual technical and clerical occupations, are low paid shows how the world treats its real heroes who are expected to carry on with their jobs and serve the rest. Such workers, according to the report, earn 26pc less than other employees. The share of low-paid workers in critical services varies from profession to profession and country to country. In food systems, the share of low-paid key employees is especially high at 47pc, and in cleaning and sanitation at 31pc. Nearly a third of these workers are employed on temporary contracts, although there are considerable country and sectoral differences. In the food industry, 46pc have temporary jobs. A significant number of employees in manual occupations are reported to be on temporary contracts and forced to work longer hours as they lack social protection, especially in low- and middle-income countries.
Although we do not have very reliable data in Pakistan regarding the key socioeconomic indicators as they relate to our critical workers, most findings of the ILO study would apply here. In fact, our key workers may be worse off on most indicators when compared to their counterparts in other parts of the world. While the public sector does have some mechanisms to partially compensate them, working conditions in the private sector continue to deteriorate due to lack of government regulations on protecting such employees against arbitrary dismissals or during health and financial emergencies. The systematic destruction of labour unions, which could protect workers’ rights by plugging the gap between employers and their employees, has exacerbated poor conditions in the workplace. The report suggests improvements in working conditions and greater investment in food systems, healthcare, and other key sectors for building economic and social resilience to shocks like the Covid pandemic. One hopes the government will pay heed.
Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2023
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