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The cost of shutdowns: Frequent strike calls

April 28, 2013

KARACHI has a long history of protests and shutdowns that have had an adverse affect on businesses in the country’s financial hub. On Thursday, port activities were affected as roads were blocked when Lyari residents protested against the killing of three men by law enforcement personnel. Former PPP MNAs claimed that they were party activists. Earlier, on Wednesday and then again on Friday, businesses were shut in response to strike calls given by the MQM whose election offices had been targeted. The business community has frequently pointed out that the losses accrued during days when business comes to a grinding halt run into billions of rupees, while the suffering of daily-wage workers is also a matter of grave concern. When transport is not running and workers cannot make it to their industrial units, production falls, affecting export orders and delivery schedules. Previously producers kept large inventories, but with improved communication and transportation facilities keeping a huge inventory is no longer considered cost-effective. Hence whenever unscheduled disruptions in production occur firms have a tough time meeting their delivery deadlines. When companies fail to deliver to international clients on time Pakistan is inevitably seen as an unreliable market. Meanwhile, contract employees constitute a good proportion of the labour force and every strike means the loss of a day’s wages. With many households barely making ends meet even on normal days, the major impact that frequent shutdowns have on family budgets can only be imagined.

Under these circumstances, the ANP’s categorically stating that businesses and transporters should continue as usual on Saturday, even though it was observing a day of mourning for those killed in an attack on an election corner meeting in Orangi, should be welcomed. All parties have a right to stage protests. But they must also consider what form these protests should take and how they can be made effective without disrupting the city’s financial machinery and causing citizens to suffer.