The momentous occasion of landing a job brings some relief to the financial woes of a worker desperately seeking employment; however, for millions of workers hired by firms on temporary contracts through third parties, the ambiguous status of their jobs brings more sleepless nights than peaceful days.
As unemployment continues to haunt the survival prospects of countless youth across the country, millions of those fortunate enough to have a job do not fare any better, given the high pertinence of the subcontracting culture, which offers only temporary contracts to desperate workers, who in the face of workplace discrimination and job insecurity, perform their duties in the shadow of constant worry for the future of their jobs and their dependents.
For instance, Sabir Hussain, a peon, has been working as a subcontracted worker for the last 15 years at a leading private educational institution located in Lahore. “Till date, I have not been allowed any paid leaves. In case I have to take a sick leave, the institution deducts money from my monthly salary,” shared Hussain, who cannot send 4 of his 6 children to school, given his measly paycheck.
Like Hussain, Nasreen Kausar, another subcontracted worker, who works as a cook at a private company in Gulberg, struggles to sustain the lifestyle of her children after her husband passed away. “I have been working with my employer since the last 7 years, but they have never offered me medical coverage nor any of the other privileges that the regular employees receive,” complained Kausar, who further asserted that she was earning barely enough money to feed her children.
Apart from subcontracted workers employed by private institutions, a number of government departments and agencies are also involved in the hiring of contractual or daily waged workers, who occupy jobs ranging from janitors, drivers, peons, security guards, and office boys.
“Unfortunately, there is a preference towards hiring subcontracted and daily wage employees in private institutions and government departments alike. Hiring contract employees instead of regular ones is a boon for firms since it allows them to evade hefty taxes. For the workers however, having a temporary employment means no paid leaves, job security, education for children or any other added benefits that accompany a stable job,” asserted Saad Muhammad, central Deputy Secretary General of the Pakistan Workers Federation, who went on to claim that such contractual employees were not given risk allowance either. .
Unsurprisingly, living in a constant state of financial uncertainty takes a serious toll on the mental health of subcontracted workers, as psychologists like Rabia Younus, point out. “A subcontracted worker spends much of their life living with anxiety since they never know when they will be sent home.
Moreover, such workers also have to deal with the discriminatory behaviour of the organisation’s management which further aggravates their mental stress,” highlighted Rabia.
According to Muhammad, the government must play a proactive role in making labour laws more stringent so that employers are compelled to provide job security, social security, and health and life insurance to all employees.
“Steps must also be taken to reduce the popularity of subcontracting culture and to encourage organisations to offer permanent employment to their workers,” opined Muhammad.
Speaking to The Express Tribune on the matter, officials from the Labour and Human Resource Department said, ”although organisations are legally allowed to hire subcontracted employees, no employee must be hired on a temporary contract which extends beyond 90 days. Employees who work for more than 90 days in a single establishment or factory must be regularised. We will take due action against the violating agencies as per the stipulations of the law.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 7th2023.