Workers in Pakistan’s Sindh province, a key garment-producing hub, have won a major victory in the form of a 40% increase to the minimum wage for unskilled workers, from 17,500 Pakistani Rupee (PKR) to 25,000 PKR (approximately 116 Euros) per month, which will take effect retroactively from 1st June. The Sindh Wage Board announced their decision on 9th June, allowing two weeks for objections to be made before the new wage becomes legally mandated.
This Wage Board win comes after nearly a year of fighting and represents a key step for workers’ rights in Pakistan. The wage increase was first announced on 9th July 2021 by the Sindh provincial government, however the order was stalled due to objections from employers who lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court, expressing fears that they would not be able to cover the increased costs. As workers struggled to survive on poverty wages, facing high inflation and a steep rise in the cost of living, global clothing brands sourcing from the region were slow to act in defense of workers’ rights. CCC reached out to H&M, Gap, C&A, Bestseller, Carrefour, Mango, Levi’s, Boohoo, Fruit of the Loom, and Tom Tailor, yet each brand refused to issue a public statement in support of the new wage and failed to publicly reassure suppliers they would adjust their payments to factor in the higher wage costs. This lack of action came despite claims from brands that they support workers’ rights and previous commitments to working towards a living wage in their supply chains.
Alongside the Sindh Wage Board announcement, the Supreme Court ruled that all workers in Sindh should receive back pay to take their wages to 19,000 PKR for the period between 1st July 2021-31st May 2022. This follows from an earlier ruling by the Supreme Court in April 2021, which stated that workers should be paid 19,000 PKR per month while the appeals process was ongoing, however in reality many employers refused to pay the increase over this period.
“The fact that the Sindh Minimum Wage Board set a new minimum wage level of 25,000 PKR for unskilled workers starting June 1st, and previously the Supreme Court ordered that employers must pay workers 19,000 PKR for the period between July last year and May this year, is a real victory. Wages in Sindh have been far too low for decades. This process has once again proven how difficult it is to fight for a higher wage for the workers in our sector, not because of unwillingness from our government but because employers and buyers are unwilling to raise wages," said Zehra Kahn, General Secretary of the Home Based Workers Federation in Pakistan.
“It is a pity that this process took so much time. Employers made the lives of workers unnecessary hard during these past months in which inflation has been between 10-15% constantly, meaning workers’ purchasing power has severely decreased”, said Karamat Ali, Executive Director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, a labour education and research NGO in Sindh.
A 40% increase to the legal minimum wage is a rare step in garment producing countries, however it remains only half of what we estimate a living wage to be in Pakistan. Importantly, the wage increase covers both men and women, thereby helping to minimise the gender pay gap.
We hope that this win will be replicated in the Punjab province of Pakistan, another major garment-producing region, where a wage struggle is ongoing.