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The will to work

March 31, 2013

Moniza Inam explores the genesis of unemployment in the country.

With daunting economic performance of Pakistan in recent indicators, the country’s economy is dwindling towards new abysmal lows. Much has been speculated and researched on the underlying causes of Pakistan’s recent upsurge in unemployment, and domestic political turmoil and energy insecurity coupled with pressure on the labour market due to rising population have been cited as central reasons. As unemployment and inflation are both soaring of late, macroeconomic circumstances are becoming a distressing reality to all and sundry.

While having economic growth policies in motion, very little has been achieved in the way of generating employment. Pakistan’s small-scale industrial sector is paramount in not only providing jobs in the secondary and the tertiary sector, but also in generating export earnings and sustaining aggregate demand necessary for stimulating growth.

Yet, due to energy shortages, indigenous industries and businesses of all scales are facing bankruptcy or are on the brink of it, and they are unable to fulfil their commitments. This is accompanied by a fall in foreign investment due to political insstability, which is causing unnecessary distress to the economy.

Many highly skilled workers are finding it increasingly difficult to secure employment of their calibre. Consequently, they remain underpaid and overworked, and with the fear of being stigmatised by mass redundancies, they are more likely to be exploited by their employers.

The experience of joblessness is not only an economic phenomenon but also a subjective one, and affects people in ways often dehumanising and emasculating. Consequently, some choose a life of crime or terrorism as a way of changing society they see as unjust, while others often choose to commit suicide.

The agriculture sector has also not been spared from unemployment as recent floods and climate change have devastated rural infrastructure and rendered labour useless. It may take some time before flood-affected agricultural regions are functional again; in the meantime many have to face joblessness.

With such economic hardships, the government has failed its people by not effectively curbing unemployment. With some cautious optimism, it is fair to say that apart from solving the energy crisis and political turmoil, the government can devise other strategies to provide employment.

Public works programme can be of immense utility and more accessible job centres for coordination between employers and employees are such means to the end. Likewise, advice and support for small-scale industries and entrepreneurs with labour intensive ideas can also be helpful in generating employment.

With a little ingenuity, people at large can also change their circumstances. Rural communities can organise collectives and produce certain foods and ethnic products which are in demand abroad and the government can provide assistance to coordinate and organise such endeavours.

Similarly, business leaders affected by recession should be more enterprising, inventive and innovative in exploiting opportunities which are less vulnerable to the political and energy crises. Even in the face of economic destitution, reflective and thoughtful action can go a long way to improve the life of common people, and, just as every cloud has a silver lining, it seems that as a nation we have nowhere else to go but move ahead.