Pakistan: Workers’ protests force government to address record-high inflation

On the eve of the World Day for Decent Work, Pakistani trade unionists organised protest actions across Islamabad, the country’s capital, to pressure the government to implement an upward revision of wages and benefits to offset the rise of inflation in the country, which is the highest-recorded in the world at 10-14 percent. 

The All Government Employees Grand Alliance (AGEGA), the BWI-affiliated Pakistan Federation of Building and Wood Workers (PFBWW) led by its President, Ch. M. Yaseen, the Local Government Employees Federation (LGEF) led by Shaukat Ali Anjum and Islamuddin spearheaded the protests. 

A sit-in protest was also held outside the country’s Parliament as thousands of workers from different cities in Pakistan joined the protests. There was reportedly heavy police presence in the protests and water cannons were used against the protesting workers, who refused to disperse.

The workers demanded the government to revise their pay scales as recommended by the Pay and Pension Committee along with an increase in house rent and medical allowance and also issuance of health cards to all public sector employees. Workers and trade unions are also lobbying the Pakistani government not to abandon the pension scheme for the government employees. Workers were expecting a pay rise in the Federal Budget (2020-21), but no such announcement was made when the budget was presented on June of this year. AGEGA responded with a number of protest actions held in September and beginning of this month.

The government reportedly convened an emergency meeting among selected public officials, including the Speaker of the Pakistan National Assembly and Ministers of the Parliamentary Affairs and Finance. The government assured protesting unionists that it will review the wages, retain pension benefits and not lower the age of retirement from 60 to 55 years. 

This was confirmed by the unions that jointly negotiated with the government, saying that it has agreed to most of their demands on pension, retirement age and wage payments and increases in their annual negotiations. 

“Trade unions will closely monitor policy developments announcements, and if the situation warrants, will again take to the streets to continue fighting for decent work,” Yaseen said.    

The protests happened amidst a USD 6 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout package, the 13th of its kind, given to Pakistan on 3 July 2020. Trade unions view it as an “imperialistic takeover,” putting additional burden on Pakistan which is currently drowning in debt and its attached economic conditionalities.