The Express Tribune Editorial 20 May 2021

Working kills


WHO has revealed some distressing information — 745,000 people died worldwide in 2016 from stroke and heart-related disease due to long working hours. Their report shows that working 55 hours or more a week was associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease partly due to increased stress, less sleep and exercise, and an unhealthy diet. Though the results may be harrowing, it should not come as a surprise particularly for Pakistan where millions of labourers are forced to work excruciatingly long hours with menial pay.
While there are laws in the country that limit working hours to 9 hours a day and 48 hours a week, the grim reality is that working hours in the country have been left unregulated by the government for a long time. The result is that workers are stuck in a grueling situation with unsanitary working conditions, extremely long working hours, and salary below the statutory minimum wage.
The fatigued workforce in Pakistan is in dire straits. While the garment industry is notoriously exploitative and abusive, there are many more invisible workers who face physical and psychological exhaustion with some balancing more than one job to make ends meet. Most overlook the services of policemen and security guards who are forced to do 12-hour work shifts. The situation in the private corporate sector is no different as job advertisements explicitly mention that the potential employees must be ready to meet tight deadlines and work overtime. Working long hours is considered admirable and most institutions follow a 6-day work week. An escape from such a life comes with significant risk since unemployment is high and competition is fierce.
Countless studies have asserted, with profound evidence, that short but focused working hours improves efficiency and productivity. Our laws must be redesigned around this fact. The emerging concept of the ‘right to disconnect’ must also be introduced to provide mental relief.



Modi’s new clothes


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity was once considered bulletproof. He continued to lead the BJP to victory in election after election, despite also presiding over unmitigated disasters like demonetisation, poor economic policies and growth, disastrous military campaigns against China and Pakistan, and haphazard initial response to Covid-19. Much of this was attributable to his allies in traditional media and manipulation of new media. But his premature victory dance regarding Covid-19, followed by India being hit by the world’s worst outbreak of the disease, appears to be the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. Even his media allies are now abandoning him.
The coronavirus carnage in India — like many of Modi’s previous bungles — was entirely avoidable. India is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. Modi, an avowed nationalist, could easily have stayed on brand and refused to export Covid-19 vaccines until India had secured enough supplies, but he wanted to project a power image abroad. Instead, he was forced to not only ban exports, but beg for help from abroad. Instead of a powerful and competent leader, he has been exposed as a farcical naked emperor. But despite this emperor’s deadly incompetence, he still maintains relatively high popularity and approval ratings — close to 60% in some polls. This is confounding millions who may not be familiar with India’s transition into an overtly bigoted state.
At its heart, Modi’s BJP is a Hindu nationalist party — essentially a supremacist group. You don’t have to be a bigot to vote for the BJP, but it does help. For those people, Modi’s excuses, however weak, are statements of fact. India had no way to know this would happen, they claim. Never mind that the entire world was recovering from the third wave of Covid-19 by learning lessons from the worst-affected countries, such as the US. Instead of fixing its mistakes, as the US did, Modi did what he does best — tell lies. How much it will cost him remains to be seen.



Forward bloc


Jehangir Khan Tareen prefers not to call it a forward bloc, but the group of 31 dissenting lawmakers that he is leading does constitute one within the PTI — for all practical purposes. Existing for the past three months, as Tareen has himself admitted, the group has thus far avoided coming all out against the ruling party. Tareen continues to express confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan who is thought of wielding de facto powers on whether his good old friend would be declared guilty or otherwise over the allegations of money laundering and manipulation of sugar price in the local market. Tareen’s son, young Ali Tareen, is a co-accused in the multiple FIRs that have been registered against them, with the FIA carrying out a probe. The two have had their several accounts frozen as well. Tareen, once a strong voice within the party, denies the allegations and says that he was a victim of a conspiracy hatched by some party leaders.
With Barrister Ali Zafar — a PTI leader tasked by the Prime Minister with finding facts regarding the mentioned allegations — expected to deliver his report any time soon, the Tareen-led group appears to believe that it’s time to show its teeth. Even though Tareen has, in his latest statement, insisted that he and his like-minded companions “are part of the PTI and will remain so”, he has raised the ante by announcing the parliamentary leaders of his group, both in the National Assembly and the Punjab provincial assembly. The message to the ruling party that enjoys a razor-thin majority in both the assemblies is pretty evident: don’t force us to the extremes.
The fact that the federal budget is just about three weeks away, Prime Minister Imran is faced with a kind of now-or-never situation. Notwithstanding the merit in the whole contention, if the PM readies himself to say “how wrong I was, my dear Tareen”, he will also have to get ready for a severe backlash from the media and the opposition for taking a U-turn on his oft-stated position that he would never give an NRO to any wrongdoer; otherwise, the PM risks an unceremonious exit from power.

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