As an adolescent, I had been taught to always bargain with shopkeepers, because they will try to rip me off and rob me blind according to my elders. I used to think of bargaining as a prized skill, only possessed by my mother who often convinced shopkeepers to cut back on the price of different items. My first harsh reality that I witnessed about Pakistan came at the age of 18. I had freshly completed my O – levels and went to a popular repair market to get my phone repaired. The first thought that was prevalent on my mind was “will I just get ripped off?”
Since, I was somewhat tech savvy myself I always did my own repair work, this particular phone was riskier to disassemble. I figured only a professional repairman would be able to accomplish the task without damaging the phone. Soon enough, A repairman started working on my phone, I asked if I could watch while he worked and he was happy to oblige. For about 40 minutes, I closely looked how this man worked efficiently with the components of my phone that I was too afraid to disassemble myself.
Umair, the repairman was nothing short of an artist, his suave movements with the tools of the trade and smooth workflow made it quite apparent that he had been working in the field for quite some time. This gave me some anxiety, knowing that this was truly a professional and I might have to pay more than I expected. Umair continued to work on closing up my phone and testing if everything was working as intended.
Meanwhile, a man in his late 30’s entered the shop and inquired about his very expensive latest iPhone that was undergoing repair. To put it into perspective, the cost of that iPhone was anywhere between 95,000 to 1,02,000 rs at that time. He inquired about the price of the repair and Umair replied with “300 rs.” This left me utterly bewildered, as to why anyone would ask for such a small sum when he was a professional, with 10 years of experience under his belt and had clearly spent a lot of effort on the task. The man proceeded to bargain with the repair technician and only ended up paying 200 rs. To put that into perspective, a notebook in Pakistan usually costs 250 rs. This sum was by no means okay to be considered as a payment for the high quality service Umair provided. Soon after, Umair was done with the repair which I had been keenly observing for the last 40 minutes.
Umair said with a slight hint of sadness in his eyes, “It will be 300 rs Sir, but since that gentleman paid 200 you can pay 200 too”. I insisted on paying 300 and thanked Umair for everything and left for home more utterly confused than I had ever been. For the first time, I had witnessed for myself that skills are not necessarily rewarded in Pakistan. Umair was underpaid, like the rest of hardworking people in Pakistan. That meek sum of 300 rs was not in any way enough for the time and effort he spent working on the phone.
Umair was one of the many people, employed by the huge store and worked all day to support himself while, receiving a negligible amount of money. A quick Google search proved that the very same repair service abroad would cost anywhere between $80-$120 dollars. After the exchange, I conducted more research on the basic Pakistan Labour Laws and the condition of the industry, only to discover Umair wasn’t alone. There are currently millions of workers like Umair in Pakistan, working in different markets, who are frequent victims of exploitation and abuse. These invisible workers are scarcely ever discussed on national platforms. Sadly, almost always the employers pay less than minimum wages to skilled labour, which often times leads to depression, financial instability and suicides among the working class.
Earlier, on September 12, 2012 one of the worst industrial disasters happened in the history of Pakistan. A blaze broke out at the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Karachi resulting in the deaths of at least 255 workers with more than 100 injured or left disabled. Investigations into the incident discovered a slew of irregularities and an absence of fire and safety mechanisms. According to claims by the surviving workers, the management made no immediate efforts to rescue the workers and instead attempted to save their merchandise first. These workers were paid under minimum wage and bad work environment and safety caused them to lose their lives. It is quite apparent that Pakistan’s government has failed to apply labour rights protection and safety regulations.
Violations of worker’s rights are prevalent in nearly all these factories, markets, shops and businesses. These practices, contrary to both Pakistani law and codes of conduct happen every day with no real regulations. Upon visiting factories and sitting down with workers, I was made aware of the fact that these workers also experience physical as well as verbal abuse, forced overtime, denial of paid maternity leaves or medical leaves, and most commonly the minimum wages were not being paid. Workers were even pressurized into not taking toilet breaks, and in some cases, were even denied clean drinking water.
I was fired when I had an infection and high fever and took two days off after filling in a leave form. When I came back to work, I was not allowed to enter and was told that I had been terminated. Anyone who becomes ill is fired. That is the general rule. A woman who had an ulcer in her stomach requested a few days off for an operation, but instead of being granted medical leave, she was fired. Said Shabina, A 28-Year Old Woman who was working two jobs to provide for her children after the death of her husband.
I was also told that, the managers hurled abuses at the workers regularly at times, for no reason. There were no employment contracts, no social security cards, and no medical leaves whatsoever. In light of all this mass mistreatment of workers, it was easy to understand why some repairmen would at times not do the job well. The simple answer is they just aren’t paid enough to focus on the task at hand. There is no job security, and a massive dearth of adequate payment for the work performed is widespread. Generally has each person working on daily wages, does not make enough to even afford food and thus are not happy with their lives. Abuse of workers has caused depression and a lack of job satisfaction for workers, who apart from being underpaid have to endure a lack of basic work infrastructure. The lack of jobs has left workers with no other options other than to slave away for these greedy and inconsiderate companies.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The ACE News.
very good approch of using story to explain point of underpaid
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