Shaikh Irshad, a 39-year-old weaver in the city of Faisalabad, was unable to make ends meet because of the coronavirus crisis, which has paralyzed the country’s industrial sector.
“Even with my meager income before the pandemic, I could barely feed my family. Now we can barely survive,” Irshad told DW.
Pakistan’s economy collapsed even before the emergence of coronaviruses in the country, but the pandemic has added to the economic woes of the South Asian nation.
Nearly 90,000 people have tested positive for the virus, with more than 1,800 related deaths. The country has recorded a large surge in the COVID-19 case since the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan revoked lock restrictions in mid-may.
Khan stressed that economic revival is more important than curbing the spread of coronavirus.
“Unfortunately [previous] lockdown has hit the poor. We can no longer afford that, “Khan told the media in the capital Islamabad.” Therefore, except for a few sectors, all other sectors will remain open, “Khan recently said, adding that the government wants to” save people from coronaviruses and starvation. simultaneously.”
“Coronavirus is not going anywhere, at least this year. That means we have to live with it following safety guidelines,” Khan said.
But to revive the economy, the Khan government transferred its responsibilities to the private sector, which according to experts could result in thousands of termination of public employment.
In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, the government plans to shed a number of state-owned companies.
Hamad Azhar, minister for industry and production, said Friday the government had decided to privatize Pakistan Steel Mills to revive and avoid losses.
About 9,000 Steel Mills employees will be fired in two phases after paying their one-month dues and salaries, Azhar told the media.
The Pakistan Human Rights Commission (HRCP), an NGO, said it was “horrified to hear reports that 9,300 plus Pakistan Steel Mills employees might be laid off.”
“Both the government and the ECC (Economic Coordination Board) have a moral responsibility to ensure the long-term welfare of employees when the labor sector is already under enormous pressure as a result of the COVID-19 crisis,” HRCP, which is a member of an independent based organization, said in a statement .
“Employment and the right to work must take precedence over profits, especially in the absence of a strong safety net and the prospect of hyperinflation,” the rights organization added.
The government says it has pumped billions of rupees into state-owned enterprises for years, which has added to its financial woes.
Government-run commercial and industrial entities have been damaged by corruption, nepotism, and incompetence, which the Khan government blamed on the previous government.
Opposition to privatization measures
Workers’ organizations plan to hold demonstrations throughout the country to protest the privatization plan planned by the government.
Azra Talat Saeed, an economist, called the Khan’s economic revival plan a “recipe for disaster.”
“The government should nationalize industries and businesses rather than privatize them. In this crisis period, we need to protect our local industries and businesses,” he told DW.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), said opposition parties would oppose the privatization of state-owned entities.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan and several members of his cabinet are involved in a plot to unleash a wave of unemployment and chaos and create a situation to sell state-owned companies for beans to their invisible partners,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
Nasir Mansoor from the National Federation of Trade Unions told DW that the factory owner had fired thousands of workers due to financial losses due to COVID-19.
Employers and industrialists say they are forced to lay off workers because of the economic situation. Qaiser Ahmed Shaikh, a prominent industrialist and member of the parliament’s financial committee, said several sectors had borne the burden of the pandemic.
Gloomy economic prospects
When Khan took power in 2018, Pakistan’s GDP growth was around 5.8%; now 1.9% and tends to decrease further. The country’s fiscal deficit is almost 10% and revenues have dropped in the last two years.
“I don’t see an opportunity for improvement,” Shaikh told DW, adding that the global economy is facing a recession due to coronavirus. “All we can do is wait for the coronavirus vaccine and normalization of economic activity around the world.”
Salman Shah, a former finance minister and current adviser to the Punjab provincial chief minister on economic affairs, acknowledged “more than 20 million people have lost their jobs” due to the health crisis.
“Only 2.5% of GDP is spent on providing social security for the working class; it must be at least 10%. We want to improve it but the condition of the International Monetary Fund does not allow us to do that,” Shah stressed.
Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar said last month around 18 million people in Pakistan could lose their jobs due to a pandemic, while 20 to 70 million people might fall below the poverty line this year.
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