Wednesday Apr 08 2020
Web Desk

Coronavirus in Pakistan: Some 3.78m migrant workers face layoff threat due to lockdown

Web Desk
Mohammad Saeed, 55, father of six and a construction laborer, waits for work during a lockdown after Pakistan shut all markets, public places and discouraged large gatherings amid the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Karachi, Pakistan. Photo: Reuters

ISLAMABAD: A report by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) has stated that out of the 8.51 million migrant workers in the country, some 3.78 million were facing threat of being laid off due to shutdowns necessitated by the coronavirus epidemic.

“The closure of business activities would force the owners to lay off their employees and some have already started doing that. We assume that informal workers, which comprise 45% of the total migrant labour force, will be the first ones to be laid off,” the PIDE has projected.

“This means around 3.78 million migrant workers will be left without their source of livelihood,” the report said.

The PIDE pointed out that Punjab employs 5.33 million migrant workers, out of which 2.37 million were facing the threat of losing their jobs. Sindh, having a migrant workforce of 1.3 million, may see 0.58 million laid off. Out of the 1.38 million migrant labour workforce in Khyber Pakhthunkhwawa, 0.61 might face retrenchment; in Balochistan, out of 0.07 million migrant labourers, 0.03m may be laid off; while in Islamabad, 0.19 million migrant workers face the threat of losing their jobs.

Coronavirus lockdown: HRW asks Pakistan to take special measures to protect workers' welfare

With calls for social distancing and a nationwide lockdown, the COVID-19 outbreak has shuttered business operations across the country. As projected, millions of workers are facing layoffs, but the situation is much worse for workers who are away from homes to earn a livelihood.

“While we worry about remittances from overseas workers, migrant workers remain largely ignored in all our discussions,” PIDE added.

According to official statistics, around 8.51 million migrant workers are working across Pakistan (based on the Labor Force Survey 2017-18). The statistics show that 45% of these are engaged in informal activities, including day labourers, construction workers, domestic helpers or factory workers. More than 65% of migrant workers are residing in only 15 districts across Pakistan, with over a million workers just in Karachi, followed by sizable populations in Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

Findings show that a majority of internal migrants are working in wholesale and retail, manufacturing, construction, transport and communication sectors. so employees in these sectors are expected to be hit the hardest.

Coronavirus pandemic: Industry struggling to stay afloat amid lockdown

Moreover, the report also shows the vulnerability of each sector and what effects a massive layoff of daily wage workers would cause. Many of these daily wagers reside in factory dormitories, which, being shuttered for now, leaves them with no place to live. With bus and train services also suspended, these workers are left with no place to go.

The PIDE states, “We must also remain aware that some of these internal migrants may return home as they do after festivals [...] With a prolonged lockdown, there could be a possibility of a return migration”.

PIDE's recommendations for financial relief

Four recommendations have been put forward by the PIDE to the government. These include social protection packages announced by the federal and provincial governments, which should include migrant workers while targeting vulnerable workers regardless of domicile.

Secondly, they suggest that there should be a provision to accommodate migrant workers in their current district of employment to reduce massive movement from the place of employment to hometowns, as has been witnessed in India.

“The current practice of local administration requiring people to register in their hometown for getting unconditional cash transfers of Rs12,000 for registration under the Ehsaas programme should be reviewed. It will lead to unnecessary movement and run counter to the lockdown intentions for corona prevention,” it said.

Thirdly, migrant workers, mainly daily wage workers, need shelter during this period. Panahgahs (shelters) should be opened for them as well, providing them with much-needed shelter and food. Soap and other hand washing facilities should also be provided to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.

Fourthly, in cases where the internal migrant has his/her family with them, and they want to remain in whatever place they have, they should be made part of any public relief initiative.

“A huge proportion of children, among the seasonal migrants that travel with families, are malnourished and any loss of wages further accentuates that. To save that from happening, rations need to reach them,” it added.

Originally published in The News