Time for empathy
Like elsewhere in the world, clamour for relaxing the lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is growing in Pakistan too. Especially the country’s working classes are getting restive because of the prolonged restrictions on physical movement, as every passing day they see their savings getting depleted or even entirely dried up. Even in the US and European countries, which have seen a high number of deaths and infections, businesses and workers have been demanding easing of the lockdown to enable people to keep their bodies and souls together. In developing countries like Pakistan, the case for a moderate lockdown is fairly strong. Infections and fatalities in the country are much lower than the projections.
Prime Minister Imran Khan is rightly in favour of a moderate lockdown in view of the fact that the country has a large population who earn their livelihood on a day-to-day basis. They have nothing to fall back upon except to sell their labour in the market. On the other hand, the Sindh government is enforcing a strict lockdown which is an effective way of ensuring social distancing necessary for preventing the deadly virus. They are also hinting at further tightening the lockdown during Ramazan as they fear that infections might increase in this month because people tend to converge on markets to buy food items and for Eid shopping. The provincial government’s fears are not entirely unfounded.
In a situation when the common people are facing the two equally dangerous prospects of either dying from the coronavirus or from hunger, governments need to take the middle way. If birds are left in closed cages without water and food, sooner or later they will die of thirst and hunger. Curbs are necessary to protect people from the deadly virus, but excessive controls are proving counter-productive.
May Day reminders
The coronavirus pandemic rampages on, having infected more than 3.3 million people across the globe and killing over two hundred and thirty thousand. The novel virus has also infected the world economy like never before: knocking down global financial markets, sending oil prices in the negative zone for the first time in history, and bringing nearly all big and small businesses to a grinding halt, etc. This decline in the global economy — described by the IMF as the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s — has been felt by all and sundry, from the man in the mansion to the dweller in the hut; from a high-profile tech tycoon to a nickel-and-dime street vendor; from policymakers scrambling to prune annual budgets to housewives who are forced to cut down on home spendings; and from a somebody to a nobody.
Amid this unprecedented economic upheaval, labourers and daily wage earners are a segment that has been hit like nobody else. While the labourers have been the most vulnerable social class even in the normal times, they have been squeezed dry in these days of lockdowns resulting from the mushrooming coronavirus. So tough is the situation that a majority of these out-of-work labourers have been forced to beg on the streets so as to feed their families. And those who cannot stretch out their hands for alms have no other option but to remain empty stomach. The labour world has indeed experienced a great turbulence.
And what else than the 1st of May can be a more opportune time to remind our rulers of the unfulfilled promises that they make year after year on the occasion of the World Labour Day. Informal employment in various contractual forms is what defines our labour market. There is need to bring in genuine reforms in the labour market — something that acquires special significance in the present context.