Just one month in and Pakistan has had more than its fair share of protests. Adding in the wave heralded by opposition leaders are government employees. Thousands of unionised employees from various departments in the capital as well as Punjab and Balochistan gathered in Islamabad on Wednesday to demand an increase in salaries and pensions.
Ruckus soon ensued as measures taken by capital police (tear gas and arrests) to disrupt the march to Parliament House led to skirmishes with charged protestors. D-Chowk turned into a battlefield amid the pelting of stones, the arrival of armed Rangers contingents and employees running in all directions to take cover.
The last few months have seen several such sit-in and protests with public servants taking to the streets against the so-called anti-employee policies of the government. There have been visibly infuriated marches in all provinces and the demand remains the same: pay rise. Having not seen the federal minister live up to their prior promises, the unions have come to a point that they are not in for anything but a government notification. Since the federal cabinet has already agreed to increase salaries of only federal employees, it remains to be seen how those who have come from the provinces would react.
The state, however, cannot be blamed for their gridlock with the local government. Under the 18th amendment, it is only up to the provincial finance to dictate salary bills. Ergo, provincial labor departments are the most suitable avenues for such heated discussions. While salaries are a sensitive topic in normal circumstances, they have become an even more controversial one in pandemic times.
The cash-strapped government is already struggling to juggle lockdown-bruised economy with burgeoning healthcare bills and resilience-building measures. No one can deny the dismal financial conditions of those forced to endure skyrocketing prices on a penny-pinching budget. Yet, we are all in for a rocky ride ahead.
Businesses around the world have been quick to part ways with their workers in a desperate attempt to cut costs. It is the same in Pakistan, where mass layoffs and pay deductions are the order of the business. Therefore, it would help both sides to reach an amicable solution to dissenting employees.