We hear all the time about what Pakistan’s real problem is. Let’s talk about what Pakistan’s real problem isn’t. And let’s begin with job insecurity.
The government sector jobs in Pakistan are as secure as the government itself. And often very lucrative – the shorter and more volatile a position, the bigger and quicker returns it offers. Generally speaking, you get a public office for life, and beyond. A grade 17 officer and the janitor in his office will be paid by the government till the last day they live, and their families will be paid after they die. Government employees are the only citizens the government feels somewhat responsible for, in terms of providing basic services.
The government can be very generous in appointing its servants and retaining their services. A recent example would be that of Mr. Rehman Malik. The gentleman who has a natural talent for comedy – he could shine, without a make-over and professional coaching, as a police chief in a Pink Panther film – was instead hired as security expert and given the test assignment to protect a party leader and a former elected prime minister on the hit list of terrorists. Poor woman survived one bomb attack, and was killed in the second attempt. The government then decided to give this man charge of the whole country’s protection, from the inside. He was made a minister before the government realised he wasn’t qualified to be one. At this, he was allowed to be a minister who goes by the title of an ‘advisor’. He was later made a proper minister by admitting him into Senate and getting a big university to give him an honourary degree. Unimpressed, the court took away his Senate membership, and he became advisor again … and all along his job never changed. He continues to be our interior minister. Now that’s job security.
In the private sector, the issue is a bit complex, but healthy nevertheless. People in the media for instance, are fired all the time but they always find another employment before the previous employer settles their account. For those who won’t be accepted by any one at all, there’s always the All Rejected Yeomen of Media, that takes them in and nourishes them to be strong enough again to work for a real media house.
Some of the jobs are so secure that the person holding the job cannot leave the work place, let alone work. The garment factory in Karachi that was burnt to ashes earlier this month was so possessive of its workers that they were literally barred from leaving even when flames were eating them up. As they rushed to the only exit, they faced a smiling watchman on the other side of the grill: ‘Relax’, he said. ‘We are programmed to receive. You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave’. More than 250 charred bodies dug out of the rubble are an irrefutable proof of the commitment of employers to retain the work force till they die.
A degree of job insecurity is actually good. It promotes healthy competition and leaves a large number of job seekers always floating and fishing, which results in a thriving informal job market. It allows police officers and female college lecturers in Karachi to work part-time with gangs of thieves; it encourages students in south Punjab to earn a living and free food by joining one of the many jihadi outfits; it puts totally useless, brain-dead young men to use as models for suicide vests and as live demonstrators of explosive devices; it provides thousands of jobs of holding political rallies and wrecking the same of opponents; and it supports emerging professions such as street agitation, counter-street agitation, art of strike, art of breaking a strike, talking for TV, negotiating for more powers and perks … and these are all well paying jobs, with no tax liability. These jobs couldn’t have been created if job insecurity hadn’t provided the necessary space.
The informal sector is also responsible for weeding out the unprofessional and the weak of flesh and spirit. The dumber ones kill themselves making or transporting bombs and while trying to burn down cinema houses owned by influential politicians; at least one of them managed to kill himself with smoke from the American flags he was burning in Lahore recently. And when they die, their families too get a pension from the informal employer or from the state.
And best of all, there is no gender discrimination in the informal sector. If anything, women are preferred in certain lines of work, like cleaning, begging, and prostitution. Old, young, pretty or plain, every woman is guaranteed a job in one of the three areas. If our economy was documented, women would already be seen to be making a substantial contribution through their labour, particularly in the field of prostitution which is spreading horizontally into every city and town as women take over the role of procurers, traditionally assigned to men. ‘How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat. Some dance to remember, some dance to forget.’
This system of employment is working just fine for children too, who may prefer to learn a trade instead of wasting time in a school. They get on-job training, food, and sex education for free, and in time, start getting cash remuneration as well. These kids could never avail of such generous opportunities if their parents had secure jobs.
So it’s working both ways in favour of Pakistanis – those who have job security are happy to have it, and those who don’t are happily employed in the informal sector and helping the engine of economy chug along. No problems to report in this area.
(Readers are requested to suggest more areas in which Pakistan and Pakistanis are doing alright and don’t need fixing.)
Masud Alam is an Islamabad-based writer, columnist and journalism trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.