Corporates advocate fair wages


Pakistan’s corporate sector has kick-started a campaign to persuade stakeholders including the government and private sector to award fair living wages, instead of minimum wages, to make sure the provision of essential goods and services to employees in the current testing times.

Speaking at a roundtable dialogue titled “Living Wage – Shaping Countless Futures”, corporate leaders belonging to leading business houses estimated the living wage at around Rs50,000 to pay for essentials such as food items, educational and health facilities.

They noted that the fair living wage was almost double the minimum wage of Rs25,000, while a majority of workers were deprived of even the minimum wage.

The government’s consideration to increase the minimum wage to Rs40,000 in the next fiscal year starting July 1, 2023 was welcomed during the session.

Unilever Pakistan CEO Amir Paracha said it would not only the government that would resist the announcement of living wages, but also the private sector would oppose it.

A participant belonging to the civil society suggested that the corporate sector may make sure that every organisation “pays the living wages by taking commitments from their business partners in the downstream and upstream industries at the time when they place new sale and purchase orders for goods and services”.

Paracha said every organisation may set its own timelines to award living wages and make sure the timelines were achieved.

He said his organisation began the journey to award fair living wages to their staff some two years ago during the Covid-19 pandemic and targeted to do so by 2025.

Jazz CEO Aamir Ibrahim underscored that they set the target for the award of living wages three to four years ago.

Despite facing a dip in sales revenue amid economic slowdown, the company “is paying a significant part of their staff living wages and voluntarily targets to award the wages to everyone in future”.

Naya Jeevan Founder Asher Hasan said paying living wages should be encouraged to ensure that children go to school and employees get insurance policies. “Employees will become middle-income consumers not in five years, but in 10 years.”

He suggested to the participants to start the journey from home by ensuring domestic employees including cooks, dishwashers and car drivers got the living wages as well.

Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI) Secretary General M Abdul Aleem highlighted that the OICCI was a member of the Employers’ Federation Pakistan (EFP), which had opposed the minimum wage at Rs25,000 some 10 months ago.

BLINQ Founder and Economist Habib Paracha said “nobody is noticing there is an elephant in the room”. “Government’s policies have kept inflation at higher levels, kept the rupee devalued and kept growing the amount of fair living wages”.

Showing concern, he questioned “how would businesses ensure paying the ever-growing living wages if inflation keeps on rising” and urged the government to take corrective measures.

Social activist and celebrity Shahzad Roy said the business should approach the government to convert the dialogue on fair living wages into a policy document so that everyone was bound to implement it.

He, however, noted workers were still not given the minimum wages set at Rs25,000 per month some 10 months ago.

Bank Alfalah Group Head HR and Learning Faisal Khan said, “We are paying a minimum Rs40,000 per month at present, but remain committed to paying living wages in the times to come.”

Careem General Manager Imran Saleem and Foodpanda Managing Director Muntaqa Paracha said their businesses were yet to scale up to become profitable or increase margins.

They claimed paying better than old minimum wages and showed commitments to paying living wages in future.

Jazz CEO Aamir Ibrahim said that dignity at work remained the key. “Workers should be provided physical, physiological and financial safety.”

He said the payment of living wages is a must to boost the morale and energy of workers.

“Improvement in the life and livelihood of employees is a must to help workers to own the company and remain on board throughout the journey.”

Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2023.

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