L.ockdown Soft, smart, full. Unlike Wuhan, China or Italy, lockdown in Pakistan has been the subject of political, social and public controversy. Those who do not support lockdown, talk about the economic impact due to the closure of business companies. Despite this concern, the fact is that locking is important and essential. This is another story whether the Federal government and the Province of Pakistan have managed to lock in the true sense. What is more important is that the economy has been severely affected and the consequences in the short and long term will and will be devastating. Nobody is sure when normal will return.
An initial outbreak of the virus forced the federal and provincial governments to announce the closure of factories immediately, mandating the type of stores that could remain open, while less concerned about supply disruptions in most sectors. The lock syndrome, rather than prevention and prevention, actually becomes a political ping-pong ball, especially between Islamabad and Sindh. Rating points become boring everyday with the devil-caring-attitude towards the economy.
There are ad hoc steps taken by the federal government and to some extent the provincial government, to overcome the economic collapse. Each Province makes its own regulations and issues notices and, in the Sindh case, the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Ordinance 2020 which was recently enacted by the Governor of Sindh under Article 128 of the Pakistan Constitution, even without consultation with stakeholders. Although the draft has been circulating for several weeks, there is hope that the governor will discuss with industrialists and, if there are amendments, it will be submitted to the Sindh’s chief minister. Nothing like this happened because the governor had tested COVID-19 again positively and was in quarantine. The question remains: why only Sindh? Or, rather, why only Karachi?
This Ordinance reeks of revenge against the Karachi private sector rather than an attempt to form a government warrant. The consequences of enforcement under the Ordinance will be scary and threaten the private sector. The death knell has been sounded, and this Law will be a dead albatross around the neck of the already furious Karachi industrialists.
The COVID-19 pandemic situation, when economic activity is at an all-time low, has also forced entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs to reframe their business tactics and strategies, plan and develop their future investments, financial projections, and more importantly, sources their human power setting. The after effects of the virus will not recede as quickly as it came in the world. Governments may have to rearrange their priorities, rules and regulations that may conflict with the WTO system, but they must decide on a focused and determined rearrangement that is essential to maintaining economic sustainability. There may be significant changes towards preventive action and the creation of a new paradigm to start the country’s economy.
What is the situation in Pakistan after COVID? The warning was very unpleasant for the country’s economy. A country that is already under internal and external economic pressure, where bad news is the norm every day, where economic managers are still lost at sea, where exports stagnate, currencies dive south, abnormally high levels of policy, large-scale manufacturing cross the negative red line, and poverty increases. Ad hoc actions, band assistance, and unsustainable solutions have become the hallmark of this government economic team whose policy is similar to bringing a knife into a shootout. This virus further aggravates the suffering of the nation. It’s more like jumping from a frying pan into a fire. The GDP level will definitely be negative; The government’s estimate is that GDP will be minus 1.50 percent although some analysts push higher negative numbers, more than official figures. Large-scale manufacturing fell more than 23 percent in March alone, and April and May figures will reflect large dives. During July-March 2020, the decline was 5.3 percent with a negative seven months from nine months. All positive and plus economic factors are now sent to the rubbish bin by a pandemic virus.
In the context of Pakistan’s industrial relations, the scenario is grim and dire. In spite of the government decree, large, muscular employers have openly fired hundreds of their workers and bravely opposed the government. There have been many reports of employers denying workers’ wages in May even though most of them reported having waived April wages.
Tension and frustration arise between employers and workers alike. Recently, hordes, moved by politically motivated tout attacked and searched denim plants in Korangi, Karachi. Likewise, workers and even non-workers block the road in protest, against payment of bonuses and / or wages. This may be the beginning of national workers’ protests which will increase post-Ramazan, as more and more employers dismiss or dismiss workers. The Sindh ordinance will be a catalyst for driving out new investment and industrialization in Karachi and there is a big possibility that factories will move to Punjab in the coming months.
The virus will not disappear in the near future but life must go on. When the Federal Ministers started talking about losing up to 18 million jobs due to COVID-19, they only echoed what the Pakistan Employers’ Federation had predicted. EFP has also made leaders aware of workers’ federations mature enough to understand the gravity of the coming scenario. However, dwarf and pseudo-socialist labor leaders with self-given titles such as friends, either representing only themselves or having a small membership base, do not understand the situation or insist on destroying industrial peace. Karachi industrialists suspect that there is a conspiracy caused by a number of political assholes who can use this dwarf drone to create an uneasy industrial unrest since pre-1977. The sad fact is that the silence of law enforcement is deafening.
The post-pandemic work environment is now a serious concern of ILO tripartite stakeholders. The newly created keyword is New Normal. The company will be faced with simultaneous challenges from supply and demand disruptions. Apart from these ideals, the fact is that in Pakistan industrial relations will experience real change. Freedom of Association, Freedom of Collective Bargaining, Gender Equality, etc. What is enshrined in the ILO Conventions can be routinely ignored by many employers. Unionism will be cruelly destroyed by many employers who will mostly depend on labor service providers rather than having a large permanent workforce. The possibility of workers willing to work for less than the minimum wage seems large, and this will be exploited by both labor providers and employers, mostly small and medium-sized companies. The labor inspection system will also be affected, and by means of monthly extortion money collected by local markets from members to be given to political or ethnic parties, the same system can be replicated in the industrial city association office for one-door distribution to inspectors and auditors.
The government will be between the devil and the deep blue sea. On the one hand, it must ensure compliance with ILO International Labor and Environmental Standards to maintain the granting of EU GSP Plus status while on the other hand there is the possibility of defiance of these standards by industrialists. The government does not have a critical mass to deal with massive unemployment, nor does it have the financial resources to provide a safety net for unemployed or semi-employed people. The call to awaken the government is when young people who are unemployed start agitating for work. Young people do not want charity or gifts, but want quality of life obtained through meaningful work. Only prosperity slogans, without concrete and workable programs, will not succeed because youth unemployment is a serious problem and, with a chaotic economy, political leaders must now give priority to the nation rather than family, party, province, and self alone . This should be the New Normal for Pakistani politicians. As the iconic song sung by Doris Day said, “Que Sera Sera, whatever happens, will become. The future is not ours to see”. It is hoped and prayed that sanity wins and the dark cloud will have a silver lining.
The writer is a former president of the Pakistan Employers’ Federation