- Asia Floor Wage Alliance cites survey of 50 factories, 605 workers
Pakistan's garment workers suffered ‘wage theft’ to the tune of over Rs13.5 billion during the Covid-19 pandemic, stated the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) in its latest report titled, 'Money Heist : COVID 19 Wage Theft in Global Garment Supply Chains'.
The AFWA was founded in 2007 as the Asian-led global labour and social alliance across garment producing countries (such as India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Bangladesh) and consumer regions (USA and Europe).
It conducted a survey of 605 workers from 50 garment factories in Pakistan, located across three districts in Punjab and Sindh – Faisalabad, Lahore, and Karachi.
It found that wage theft was the predominant feature of the Covid-19 crisis for garment workers in Pakistan.
“Wage theft was the predominant feature of the Covid-19 crisis for garment workers in Pakistan," stated the detailed report. "Our survey estimates indicate that 244,510 garment workers across 50 factories in Pakistan were denied 85.08 million USD as wages due to order cancellations, non-payment for existing orders, and other irresponsible practices by brands during the pandemic."
The report said that wage theft peaked in April 2020 but workers consistently experienced wage theft throughout the year, and well into 2021. However, the magnitude of wage theft declined towards the end of the year with an increase in production due to government support and relaxation of Covid-19 lockdown-related restrictions.
The report added that workers reported an overall wage theft of 29% in 2020, with a sharp decline in wages by 61-69% during the total lockdown period and 26% during the partial lockdown period.
"Wages never recovered to the pre-pandemic levels in 2020 as workers continued to experience wage theft of around 5% during the postlockdown period."
The report further said that wages and working conditions are shaped by pre-existing inequalities in the labour market in the form of gender, age, and contractual status.
"During the pre-pandemic period, brands took advantage of these disparities to systematically underpay vulnerable segments of the workforce and flexibilise employment relations."
It said that Pakistan has one of the highest male-female disparities in garment sector earnings in Asia.
"As per our survey, 66% of the casual workers were women, indicating the high prevalence of women in casual jobs. Casual workers are an extremely disadvantaged group of workers as they earn lower wages and have more limited access to social security benefits and employment security, compared to regular workers. The double burden of job insecurity and patriarchal norms accentuated the precarity of women workers during the Covid-19 crisis, as they faced higher wage theft and an exacerbation of social inequalities."
The report said that women lost 43% of their wages, while on average, men suffered a total wage loss of 27% over 2020. When men suffered wage loss of 68% and 56% in April and May, respectively, women lost 80% and 90% of their wages during these months.
Even during the partial lockdown stage from June to October, while men suffered 20% wage loss, female workers lost 65% of their wages, found the report.
It also stated that women had less chances of getting reemployed than men as factories reopened. "Most women workers who were laid off or terminated turned to informal home-based work or domestic work to feed their families."