Taimur Rahman Political Archive

Long Live Marxism-Leninism!

Implications of 12-hour working day

Posted by Taimur Rahman on July 7, 2006

Published in The Post 07/07/2006

Taimur Rahman

Recently, amidst great fanfare and repeated triumphalist declarations by the media, the government unveiled its ‘pro-poor’ budget. For a while one was taken in by the ‘facts and figures’ presented by the government and the small hope that remains at the back of everyone’s minds was rekindled briefly. In this regard, one thought that the decision of the government to raise the minimum wage of workers from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 4,000 was a step in the right direction. With inflation in double digits, it was imperative that steps were taken to address the decline in real wages of the people.

However, a less noticed but extremely important piece of legislation threatens to derail the entire “pro-poor” slant of the recently released budget. During the session of the budget, the government proposed and passed into law, an increase in working hours extending the working day up to 12 hours.

If we compare the increase in minimum wages to the increase in working hours, we begin to understand the underhandedness of the “pro-poor” budget of the government.

The increase in the minimum wage from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 4,000 represents a 33 percent increase in wages [(4000-3000)/3000 x 100) = 33 percent]. At the same time the increase in working hours represents an increase of 50 percent [(12-8)/8 x 100 = 50 percent].

Thus we understand that whereas minimum wages have been raised by 33 percent, working hours have increased by 50 percent. The real picture becomes even clearer if one calculates the disproportionate increases on a per hour basis.

Under the old regime, labour worked eight hours a day, six days a week. For the entire month, therefore, a labourer worked 192 hours. Given that the minimum wage for this 192 hours of work was Rs. 3,000, it follows that the hourly wage of the worker was 3000/192 = Rs. 15.625 per hour.

Under the new regime, labour will work 12 hours a day, six days a week. For the entire month, therefore, a labourer will work 288 hours. Given that the minimum wage for this 288 hours of work is Rs. 4,000, it follows that the hourly wage of the worker is 4000/288 = Rs. 13.88 per hour.

In conclusion, whereas under the old regime the hourly minimum wage was Rs.15.625, under the new regime, despite the increase in the minimum wage, the hourly minimum wage has in fact been drastically reduced to Rs. 13.88 by the simultaneous larger increase in working hours.

The reader should also note that this entire calculation is based on nominal wages (not real wages). If one were to add to this the impact of inflation, which has been devastating in the last few years, the picture becomes even bleaker. The State Bank of Pakistan calculated that the inflation rate in the first few months of 2006 stood at approximately 11 percent. In the opinion of most independent economists this was an extraordinarily low estimate and one that should be upwardly revised, especially in the light of the sugar scandal. However, let us for the moment give the benefit of the doubt to the State Bank of Pakistan and work with this statistic to estimate the impact on real wages.

Combining the rate of inflation with the estimated drop in nominal hourly minimum wages, we arrive at the conclusion that the overall drop in real minimum wages in and around the time of the presentation and approval of the budget was up to 22 percent [{(15.625-13.88)/15.625 x 100} + 11 = 22 percent].

The government has argued that the 12-hour workday is “not compulsory”. The implication is that this law is somewhat benign because it requires the consent of the worker in order to be enforced. This rather abstruse expression basically implies that the maximum working day will not exceed 12 hours, but will be left to negotiations between labour and capital to determine the working day in each enterprise and in each contract. Now this entirely defeats the original purpose of the law on the eight hour working day. The original law, won after nearly a century of struggle, stated that the normal working day could not exceed eight hours; in contrast the new law states that the working day cannot exceed 12 hours. Clearly, the ‘non-compulsory’ character of the new extended working day makes no difference to the fact that the legal working day can now exceed eight hours.

It was Robert Owen who raised the famous slogan: “Eight hours work, Eight hours recreation, and Eight hours rest.” The purpose of the original legislation was to provide legal protection to workers and to set certain minimum labour standards across industry. Clearly the extremely reactionary legislation of increasing the hours in a working day has destroyed the minimum labour standard attained after a century of working class struggles and has entirely defeated the purpose of the original legislation.

The extension of the working day beyond eight hours is clearly in direct contradiction with the conventions of the ILO to which the Government of Pakistan is a signatory. However, given that amendments to the Industrial Relations Ordinance 2002 have already disallowed the factory inspectors of the labour department to inspect the premises of factories and rendered this department nearly toothless, it comes as no surprise that the current government would legislate a law that would be considered in any relatively more democratic society a complete violation of the fundamental rights of working people.

The reaction to this particular piece of legislation on the part of the working class is already extremely strong. The very day of the passing of this legislation, the All Pakistan Trade Union Federation held a fiery demonstration outside the premises of the Lahore Press Club. Soon after they formed the “Mazdoor Action Committee” composed of five working class organizations (All Pakistan Trade Union Federation, Working Women’s Organization, Anjuman Mazareen Punjab, Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party, Bhatta Mazdoor Ittehad) with the main aim of fighting for the eight hour day. Similar demonstrations and statements have been coming from the Pakistan Workers Confederation, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, and other trade union and left political parties. There will scarcely be a single left-wing or working class organization that would refuse to mobilize all its strength for this particular issue, but more significantly, the character of this issue is such that it will bring the trade unions in closer collaboration with the relatively small ideologically driven left-wing organizations, providing the latter overnight with a mass constituency in the trade unions. It might be too early to say that the extension of the working day to 12 hours is already having the impact of uniting disparate forces in much the same manner as the workers of Chicago united for the enforcement of the eight hour working day in 1886, but if the government insists on the enforcement of this reactionary legislation the inevitable trajectory of working class organizations will certainly be in that very direction.


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