Unskilled workers left in the cold
A week without work, Umar Gul, 44, a labourer from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is spending shivering, cold nights on the green belt of Islamabad’s 7th Avenue, as unskilled workers fight for survival in crunch economic times.
“I have borrowed Rs400 from my friend who is a watchman,” a dejected Gul told Dawn, saying he daily hopes to get work to earn Rs200 to Rs300 but for the last one week he is returning to the green belt empty handed.
The future of unskilled labourers in the capital is becoming bleak with the pace of construction work slowing down because of rising inflation and extraordinary protective measures in Islamabad. “Things are getting costlier with every passing day,” he said.
According to an economic expert, the cost of living was rising because of increasing inflation leading to joblessness and poverty. “Skyrocketing food prices are going out of reach of unskilled workers,” he said.
Nowadays Gul’s is closely watching every penny he is spending out of Rs400 he has borrowed from the friend. In tears, he said unemployment has forced to take onion with bread. “Unless I get a job this is all I have got, and I have to return this money.” Back home in Peshawar his four children study in a religious seminary.
But life was not as hard for Gul three years ago, as he used to send Rs6,000 to Rs8,000 to his family every month. In those days, he said his children would have better meals. But nowadays they are forced to “eat vegetables from cheap market”.
Associate Prof Amjad Chauhdry, of Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims), says lack of balanced diet affects normal growth of children. Buying toys or new clothes for children is not one of Gul’s worries. His only overriding concern is to earn enough to provide them food. With no work and no money, sending them to school is also out of question and the only option left is the madrassah, mainly because ‘education’ there is free.
For Gul, the days of construction boom under the rule of Gen (retired) Pervez Musharraf were much better with lots of work for labourers like him. “In Musharraf’s days I was getting work daily.” Now with jobless days, Gul is often questioned by police for his ‘activities’. “Nobody is safe. We have to face police’s questioning and sometimes we are forced to give them bribes.” As many of his colleagues have left the capital city for Faisalabad, Lahore and even Karachi in search of work, Gul also thinks that his days in Islamabad are numbered. “If you have no money, your future is unsafe here.”
(Published in Daily English “Dawn” on December 16, 2010)