IN announcing an increase in the minimum wage standard, Pakistan’s labour issues have merely been offered a sop by the authorities. Addressing a function held to mark International Labour Day in Islamabad on Tuesday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced that the minimum wage would henceforth be increased to Rs8,000 per month. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif went a step further to say that the standard in his province has been raised to Rs9,000. While welcome, these moves must be considered token gestures. The increase is meaningless for countless contract, daily-wage and domestic workers, for whom negotiating fair pay is dependent on their employers’ conscience. The state has no means of ensuring that the standard is adhered to in all labour-related spheres, except those directly under the government’s control. Meanwhile, the people to whom minimum wage standards would apply are working in such a disadvantaged position that they have little chance of complaining or ensuring that their rights are upheld.

Interventions such as these have a better chance of working if the steps are taken in consultation with the groups that have a stake in the issue. Instead of making unilateral announcements and imposing a top-down decision, the federal and Punjab governments could have explored the benefits of discussing the matter with representatives of forums such as the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, leaders of industry and labour-rights activists. The process would have been longer and an agreement would have had to be hammered out with consensus, but there would have been more chances of success. As it stands, while the prime minister and the Punjab chief minister have taken their bow for addressing labour concerns, their move is unlikely to substantively improve the lot of the thousands of men and women towards whom the concession is directed.

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