Pakistan is experiencing a partial lockdown in the country. Sindh government has imposed strict lockdown in the province. Punjab has also severely restricted the movement of people in the province. The wholesale and main markets have been closed down.
Only retail shops-groceries-bakeries and pharmacies are open. The big chunk of industries also has been closed down. Both the goods and passenger transport also shutdown. The lockdown has created tough situation for daily wage labourers and poor workers. Poor workers, especially those dependent on a daily wage with no reserves, will not be able to cope with any possible lockdown as a response to the pandemic.
The closure of markets-businesses and industries have made millions of daily wage labourers unemployed. They need government help and support to survive in these tough times. The federal government and provincial governments are trying to help them. But they are facing two problems at the moment.
One- there is no institution in the country that has accurate data of daily wage workers working in industries and markets. No one has the data of self-employed workers who has also been badly hit by lockdown. Two- there is no coherent-efficient and properly running and managed social security system in the country to immediately help and support the needy workers and their families.
The governments both federal and provincials are facing problem to reach out to the real affected workers as no proper mechanism exists. The social security net that exists in the provinces to register the workers and to provide facilities to the workers including the old age pension and other benefits has a limited data of workers.
The social security departments in the provinces only registered workers through their employers. The employers just registered a fraction of workers working in their industries and businesses. The governments’ wants reach out to the affected workers but lack of accurate data and absence of an integrated social security system is making this process more problematic.
This law and regulation needs to be changed so every worker working at every workplace or self-employed could registered itself with the social security department. Millions of workers are not registered with the social security. They really do not exist for the government departments.
The concerned labour departments of provincial governments must initiate the province wise workers surveys to collect the data and to draw up the policy framework to bring them under social security net. According to one estimate of a trade union federation-only 10% workers are registered while 90% workers are not registered with authorities.
The lockdown is affecting everyone but poor people are the most vulnerable because they do not have the means to cope on their own.Pakistan like most of the countries will face tough economic conditions after the coronavirus pandemic is over. The businesses and industries are going to retrench and lay off workers. There will be job slaughter as the economic crisis will intensify.
According to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) 56% employment in Pakistan is considered vulnerable employment. It means any big shock to the economy and decreased economic activity will directly impact the employment of those who worked as daily wage labourers and precarious jobs.
More than 80% works in the agriculture sector. The agriculture sector is the most vulnerable to external shocks. Nearly three-fourths works in wholesale and retail trade. Nearly 50 percent employed in hotel and restaurants. More than three-fifths works in real estate and business- and approximately two-fifths in transport and communication sector.
The economic crisis will have a negative impact on poverty and unemployment. Both the poverty and unemployment will increase as the result of recession and economic crisis. Up to 5 million people in Pakistan could become unemployed as the result of Coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on economy. It really depends that how the government handle the economy after the coronavirus lockdown ended.
In range of 20 to 70 million people could fell below the poverty line. This situation demands appropriate response from the government.
Vulnerable workers are most likely to lose their jobs if they miss work. In the current scenario, their nature of job makes them least able to work remotely to avoid contracting the virus. They are also least likely to have savings to survive an economic downturn. Under such circumstances, safety nets, especially cash transfers, paid leaves, and health insurance, can provide quick financial support to overcome basic needs of vulnerable and poor segments of the society.
Meanwhile the governments can use the Benazir Income Support programe data to reach out the poor families. The governments can also use the data compiled by the Zakat committees to extend the help to needy and poorest of the society. What needs to be done is to immediately release the money to the BISP members. The stipend should be doubled for next three months. There are already Rs180 billion rupees parked in BISP for this year with low utilization. So, the additional burden will be adjusted there.
Increase the cash assistance to 8000 (half of the basic income) for the next three quarters for the already enrolled BISP beneficiaries. Include an additional 5.5 million families along with existing 4.5 million families. Additional beneficiaries could be included using the National Socio-Economic Registry (NSER 2011-12), the census data used by BISP for targeting purposes, by increasing the PMT up to 25 score.
Apart from these families, BISP with the help of NADRA using mobile contacts may also allow poor families to get cash assistance even if they are not included in the NSER. Global think-tanks also propose similar approaches to provide urgent support to the vulnerable and poor segments of the society.
With the help of mobile companies and NADRA, BISP can target these families very quickly and disburse mobile money. BISP can use BISP Beneficiary Committees (BBCs) to spread information about new enrollment and precautionary measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
The existing social security nets can be used immediately to reach out to the affected workers and poor families. The government should not just concentrate on urban centers but also reach out to the poor and workers in rural areas. The rural population will be badly affected by the lockdown and needs helping hand from the government.
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