The short end of the stick
With thousands of people having lost their jobs due to the economic crunch over the past six months, it appears that the recent jump in unemployment levels may not be a short-term phenomenonBy Samina W. Perozani
When Faisal Ahmed* began his career with a television channel in Karachi some four years ago, he had no idea the way the tables would turn on him. Starting out as a Creative Executive, Faisal climbed the corporate ladder just like everyone else he knew. What he didn't anticipate, however, was the recession that would hit the world with full force in 2008. Pakistan was no exception to that.
The economic spiral, began squeezing the life out of the people here in mid-2008. As gas and fuel prices soared, the overall cost of living for an average citizen became all but bearable. Not surprisingly, private sector organisations resorted to cost-cutting measures and, thus, between August 2008 and January 2009, countless people lost their jobs. Faisal was one of them. Working as a Creative Manager then, Faisal was laid off on January 18, 2009 without any prior notification.
"I was not taken into confidence about the financial troubles that the company was going through," he said. "I was just called in by the human resource people (HR) people one day who told me that the company needed to cut back on its costs. Then I was told to sign a resi-gnation letter (prepared by the company) with the promise that I would be given one month's salary as compensa-tion." To date, Faisal has not received the money. Nor has he been able to find a job.
There are many others who have similar stories to tell – stories of losing their jobs at a moment's notice, of waiting endlessly for that opportunity that has yet to knock at their door, of cutting back on things that were previously taken for granted.
The worst part is that the situation is not expected to improve any time soon. Experts point out that the current job market is not encouraging especially for new entrants and it is likely to remain this way for a while. "The latest labour force survey (2006-2007) says that the unemployment rate was 5.3 per cent, and 2.7 million workers were unemployed.
During the last major economic downturn (1999 to 2001), the rate of unemployment went over eight per cent," said Haris Gazdar of Collective for Social Science Research, a research NGO. According to Gazdar, unemployment is expected to increase this year but "I doubt if it will go from 5.3 per cent to a historic high of eight per cent so rapidly. My own hunch is that we will see a rise of between 0.5 to one million at the very most."
Newspaper reports, however, paint a picture that is far more grim. Earlier this month, a news report in the Gulf Times stated that around 250,000 contractual and daily wage employees in Karachi's industrial area have been sacked in the last six months. "The axing of workforce in the last four months has mainly taken place in garments, stitching, knitwear, hosiery and other textile-related units, which are labour-intensive," said the report.
Downsizing is not just limited to the textile industry. In fact, the banking sector has also taken a massive (and perhaps the largest) hit in the last six months. Even though there are no official figures available in this regard, "roughly about 7,000-8,000 people from this sector alone have been laid off," said Liaquat Ali Sahi, Secretary of the Democratic Workers' Union, State Bank of Pakistan. Sahi explained that it is fairly easy to lay off bank employees because most private banks hire people on a contractual basis. This means that the organisation does not have to ensure job security. Of course, the lack of trade unions in these banks merely facilitates the process. "Private banks do not encourage the presence of trade unions. Most employees working there don't want unions because they feel a union may put their job at stake," he added.
On the other hand, those who still have their jobs said that their salaries and perks have been 'downsized'. Aamir Tariq*, Manager Sales, at one such private bank, complained that his organisation had failed to reimburse him for his fuel expenses (as stipulated in his contract) for the past three months now. "There has also been a ten per cent deduction from my salary and a 50 per cent decrease in medical cover as a cost-cutting measure," he explained. Tariq said it is becoming increasingly difficult to save anything at all. "My wife and I, we rarely ever eat out now and we've changed the way we live to a great extent," he added. But he's not complaining to the bosses. In fact, he's not saying anything at all because at this point, he feels he is lucky to have a job. Not surprisingly, the HR department of his bank was unavailable for comment.
Unfortunately for Tariq and those like him, their lifestyle may never be the same again. Since the recession is here to stay, it's quite possible that some organisations may never be able to recover from the losses. "Some of the high-end sectors will never go back to their former glory because it was artificial," said Gazdar. Other sectors, however, may land on their feet with time – some as quickly as the next quarter, may be. Even though we are learning to overcome our domestic difficulties, Pakistan is going to be hit by a global slowdown, he added. So wining and dining may well be a thing of the past.
Meanwhile, head hunters are taking the boom in unemployment with a grain of salt. Even though they feel the number of candidates have increased considerably, they are confident that they can find placements in the time given to them. "I have found candidates for my client just last week in two days," said Fatima-Khan Shamsi who works as an HR consultant for Human Resource Solutions International (HRSI), a private company in Karachi. Shamsi, whose job entails finding the right candidates for the openings that come to her company, admits that finding jobs in this economy may be a challenge but then that is what the head hunters are for. "We are usually able to find the right candidate for the client, not over qualified and not under qualified," she added.
A lot of people, however, prefer to steer clear of head hunters. They say it is easier to find a job yourself rather than relying on someone else, "It's all about contacts in Pakistan. The chances of finding yourself a job on your own are higher rather than going through a head hunter," said Ahmed, explaining why he hasn't gone to a consultant yet. Ahmed is certain that he won't need one any way because sooner or later, "some thing will come up."
So while economists predict that things are headed downhill from here on, Ahmed and many others like him, continue their search, hopeful that there is light at the end of the tunnel; that they will find what they've lost – and then some.
* Names have been changed to protect privacy
Trauma of sacking
Dr Majid Ali Abidi, Head of Psychiatry Department Hamdard College of Medicine and Dentistry who has over 14 years of experience in the field of psychiatry, divides the psychological effects of unemployment in different categories. "Psychological effects of sacking totally depend upon the process of sacking an employee has gone through," he says while talking to Kolachi. "There are three ways to sack an employee and the psychological effect varies with each type."
When downsizing, some organisations offer their employees a few months' salary, along with other benefits. "This first type has the least effect on one's psychological health as the employee does not have to immediately worry about looking for a new job."
The second type is when companies merge in order to reduce their financial loss, in which case employees are given a certain period of time to mentally prepare themselves without being offered any monetary benefits when being laid off. However Dr Abidi adds that sudden downsizing disturbs the psychological health of the employee the most.
"The third type is the worst. This is when an employee reports to work as usual, but is issued a letter saying he is fired and should not come in the next day. It is devastating and in psychological terms the news strikes the individual and his family like a flood or an earthquake," said Dr Abidi elaborating that the condition of the employee is like that of a survivor of some natural disaster, who loses everything but his life.
"Such employees are at further risk of socio-emotional problems, Acute Stress Disorder, anxiety disorders and depression. The worst of all is depression, stresses the doctor. "Depression not only makes you a pessimist, but leads to low performance levels in general. When a person loses his job, he suffers from low self-esteem, which in turn reduces the chances of him finding a new job."
Worse still, this condition leads to other diseases like Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). "Re-employment is particularly difficult for those who suffer from PTSD. This is because that one letter of termination kills his motivation to work hard and his performance suffers." Sharing details of one of his patients, Dr Abidi told Kolachi how PTSD affected a person's mental health. "My patient was employed in a pharmaceutical company, and was selected out of 70 candidates for the job after five successive attempts. But after a few months, another pharmaceutical company bought the company and he was fired because the parent company wanted to hire its own people."
The doctor recalls that the patient was terribly upset, recalls the doctor. "He avoided socialising and stopped taking care of his health. Because of this, he developed various body aches none of which could be diagnosed despite several medical tests." He is still undergoing treatment and is unable to adjust in any other office.
Like most psychological problems, unemployed people find it difficult to cope with stress. They eventually require crisis intervention, treatment through drugs, antidepressants and overall psychotherapy. In crisis intervention, explains Dr Abidi, a patient requires counselling to overcome his immediate stage of shock. From here, he reaches the stage of realisation and then to recovery. "Drugs and anti-depressants are the medicinal treatments available," he adds.
Dr Abidi believes that keeping in mind the global recession and Pakistan's crippling economy, companies here are left with no choice but to downsize or merge. "In such a scenario, the number of unemployed will increase. Their families and spouses should realise that this can have a negative effect on the individual's mental health and may require him or her to visit a psychiatrist. Psychological problems can be easily treated available at nominal charges as qualified psychiatrists are present in most hospitals of the country. Karachi in particular has some of the most qualified psychiatrists whose services should be availed if an unemployed person is under stress," he recommends.
The human face of recession
Kolachi interviews an individual who recently lost his job
By Ahmed Yusuf
Ali Inam, a twenty-five-year old banker, was deemed a redundant "expense" at the bank where he worked. "We were told one day that the organisation needed to cut back due to the credit crunch, and all expenses and overheads had to be reduced. I was part of these expenses," he said with remorse.
Inam had joined the bank after graduating from Lahore University of Management and Sciences (LUMS) in 2005. "I was very excited at the time. I wasn't one of the top students in class, but I had a sharp sense of business and an intelligent sense of humour. I think that's what got me through the interview, I accepted the offer, laying down the foundations of a strong and successful career," he told Kolachi.
"For about three years, I worked to ensure that I get big business accounts. My promotions were connected to the number of accounts I'd bring for the bank. If anything, during the last three years, I brought business worth at least Rs20 million to the bank. We have a commission system at the bank, and I probably earned more through the commission than my basic salary."
"I was so convinced that I was going places with my career that as soon as my first promotion came, I decided to get married in early 2008. My wife is a social worker, and between the two of us, we thought we had enough money to start a comfortable new life."
But seven months later, the financial crunch took its toll and Inam was among hundreds in the sector deemed surplus. Unlike others though, Inam chose not to accept other, less lucrative jobs. "Maybe I'm a little crazy, but I don't want to take a similar job at a lower position and at a lower package. It's a lose-lose situation as far as I'm concerned. A lot of my friends have advised me to not sit idle at home, but I'd rather spend the time looking for a decent job with a good package. It's not that I don't trust my sales ability, in fact I trust it to the extent that I'd rather wait for a good opportunity."
Inam added that he understands the market situation these days. Those who still have their jobs at the bank (from where he was asked to resign) have been transferred or given added responsibilities. But they are not complaining. Similarly, those who have lost their jobs are willing to take any offer that comes their way, a lot of banks fired their staff, and there was a huge pool of unemployed bankers with approximately the same credentials to offer. "Our local industry isn't mature or developed enough to absorb the pool of unemployed labour, but they have cherry-picked the cream of the unemployed pool at lower packages."
"These days, the situation is such that people will take up almost anything that comes their way. One of my friends went back to LUMS to complete his Masters in Business Administration (MBA), but even he is sceptical about getting a job. Whereas in the past, lucrative offers were made to LUMS MBA students before they would graduate, this year, hardly ten per cent of MBA graduates have received offers. Will they become janitors after studying for two-years in arguably the most prestigious business programme offered in any Pakistani university?" he wondered.
Inam added that he is applying for a Fulbright scholarship this year, and has sent his CV to countries in the Middle East as well because he feels no sector in this country is loyal to its employees at the moment when businesses are running into a loss. "It's about saving the business right now, not about saving devoted employees."
Q. What would you do if you lost your job?
By Sadia Hanif
Ubaid Ahmed, 21, Sales Executive: "If I lost my job I will not waste time in depression and immediately start hunting for a new one. And till I find an appropriate job, I will do temporary job anywhere to bear my expenses."
Faiza Meer, 25, English Facilitator: "I would take responsibility of the situation and look for other options first in my own career and if unable to find one, I would not mind switching careers. I wouldn't mind being self-employed either."
Junaid Abdus-Samad, 30, Software Engineer: "I would obviously search for another one. If it's hard to find a full-time job, I wouldn't mind working part time as something is better than nothing. I would also do any odd job if the need be."
Annas Shaikh, 26, SQA Engineer: "I would not lose a job. It would basically be the organisation that will lose an employee like me. And if that happens, I would find another one without wasting any time."
Yasser Qureshi, 21, Associate Engineer: "I'd immediately apply to other organisations in search of a new job and if get enough gratuity from my previous job, I would invest that money in some small business that will at least earn me something till I get a new job. I'll even try to get a part time job to bear my daily expenses."
Art or farce?
Considering the fact that the sculpture of (late) Benazir Bhutto displayed at the Sindh Museum in Hyderabad bears no resemblance to her, critics say the artistes should not have been paid more than Rs30,000 for their work, but the government spent Rs0.4 million
By Adeel Pathan
After the tragic death of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Chairperson, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, emotions ran high. Thus, a lot of artists cashed in on this by crafting immature depictions of Bhutto to win the hearts of government functionaries. This then led to the currying of favours from these very officials who provided many such artists with jobs and the perks that came with it. The trend continues to date -- several hospitals, parks, airports and streets have been named after her where the work of these artists is put on display.
In this regard, the Sindh Department of Culture announced that Bhutto's sculpture would be put on display at the Sindh Museum, Hyderabad, a few days before her first death anniversary. The Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah was the guest of honour for the inauguration ceremony who did not seem to find anything wrong with the sculpture in question that looks nothing like Bhutto.
It was when the sculpture was put on display for the general public that reaction towards it could be gauged. In fact, most visitors pointed out the flaws saying that the 'supposed depiction is nothing but a farce as it bears no resemblance to BB.'
As learnt by sources within the Centre of Excellence in Arts and Design (CEAD), Fateh Daudpoto and Jam Deepar were the two sculptors hired for this project and received one million rupees as payment for their work.
An art critic, who did not wish to be named, told Kolachi that those responsible for creating this sculpture are amateurs at best and, thus, a huge amount of money has been wasted on the project. "The face did not need to be painted. Moreover, the material used is fibre glass which is why the sculpture looks more like a toy rather than a serious work of art," said the critic, pointing out the various flaws in the sculpture. According to her, the technology required for sculpture-making is not available in Pakistan as specialised laboratories are required for creating it.
The critic wondered why artists are all of a sudden expressing great interest in creating depictions of BB only after her death. "If it is a tribute, why are people cashing in on the situation and selling their work for huge amounts of money?"
Several other art lovers and critics felt the same way. They said that the sculpture in question is not only an insult to BB but also to the art community on the whole. They felt that this playing on people's emotions is just an easy way to make some money.
Kolachi has also learnt that the total cost of this sculpture is not more than Rs25,000 to R30,000. Thus, paying Rs1 million for something that did not cost that much to begin with seems a little over the top.
Meanwhile, Daudpoto told the journalists present at the time of inauguration ceremony that the "people of this country are not culturally aware and need to know more about art to understand the sculpture on display." He said that increased awareness in this regard was the need of the hour.
When asked why the sculpture does not resemble BB in any way, he said that a photograph and sculpture cannot look the same. He claimed that his creation was, in fact, the best sculpture of BB to date.
The Provincial Secretary of Culture Shams Jafrani, however, denied that one million rupees had been paid for the sculpture. He said that the Department of Culture had only paid Rs0.4million for it. "Talks were held with various artists before giving the project to two artists in question, and they were selected after careful consideration," he added. The Secretary also insisted that the sculpture does resemble BB, if one keeps in mind her pictures, especially the one taken moments before her death at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi.
Paying tributes to BB has, indeed, become the order of the day in Pakistan and there is nothing wrong with it either. However, what should not be allowed is the unchecked cashing in on this sentiment, especially when the money required for such tributes is coming out of public kitty.
If artistic depictions are required, then the Department of Culture should select the artists based on merit. Perhaps, the department should consider holding an art competition on the subject and prizes should be awarded. This would be far more feasible rather than giving out large sums of money to an individual or two. Meanwhile, the sculpture remains on display at the Sindh Museum in Hyderabad.
Making the best of things
After losing one of his legs in an accident, Awal Khan opted to become a cobbler which earns him good money
By Fasahat Mohiuddin
"I would rather die than beg for livelihood. It's shameful to do that because God has given me the will to work," Awal Khan, a handicapped cobbler, says. While many of his friends have taken the easy way out and are full-time beggars, Awal says that he has never thought about doing the same. "A lot of my friends told me to sign a 'deal' and join the begging brigade but I refused," he adds.
Hailing from the Bajaur agency, NWFP, and now residing in Khamosh Colony, Awal migrated to Karachi 25 years ago and since then, he has been working in this city as a cobbler. Awal is also proud of the fact that he has never taken Zakat or charity from anyone to make ends meet.
"My family and I, we are respectable people from Bajaur and would never do something like this. Besides, I am contented with what I have," he says. Awal believes that it is important to earn one's livelihood with dignity and hard work because begging is also against the tenets of Islam. Awal said he wanted to join the army but he gave up on that dream once he lost his leg.
He then chose to earn a livelihood through a profession that would not require him to move about. Awal had been mending shoes at nominal rates for the past several years, however, since the tools used for mending shoes have become expensive with inflation, he has no choice but to increase his charges.
This is probably why he saves leather scraps and belts – to cut down costs. Awal said that he puts some of his tools in a wooden box while the rest are left in the shack as it is, as he firmly believes that God will protect them. Fortunately, for Awal, he does not have to pay any tax towards the spot that he has occupied. Not only this but also, he doesn't require a license or permit to set up his shop as mending shoes is not a registered profession in the city. Other such businesses include tyre repair shops and tea stalls.
Meanwhile, Awal has several cobbler friends who don't live here with their families. "Thank God, there is the convenience of cellphones now so they can call up their families back home when they miss them," he said. "Of course, a lot of them also call up their female friends instead of family," Awal added with a twinkle in his eye.
Earning about Rs2,000 to Rs3000 per month, Awal said that he doesn't need a lot because he is used to leading a simple life. "As are my family members," he pointed out.
Over 3,000 cobblers in the city
There are over 3,000 cobblers in the city, most of them hailing from the NWFP. Found in several nooks and corners of the city, a lot of these cobblers also sell niswar. As opposed to shoe smiths around the world who also specialise in pedicures and foot massages, the cobblers here merely polish and mend shoes. Not only this but also, they don't charge as much as the shoe smiths in other countries – about $25 for a one-time job, most of whom are found in five-star hotels and shopping malls.
Business is usually good during the rainy season as many women come to get their shoes and sandals repaired. Unfortunately, they don't belong to any association since most of them coming from the northern areas. In fact, whatever little they earn is sent to their families back home.
Interestingly enough, a lot of these cobblers are also police informers, a task that they take on willingly and secretively.
Colouring and discolouring Karachi with flags
Flags of various political parties and organisations tied around poles are a common sight in the city, but what purpose do they serve? Kolachi finds out
By Meena Ahmed
Throughout history and across the globe flags have signified a sense of belonging for different people during times of war. Here in Karachi flags represent political or religious leanings of different parties. However, due to the lack of maintenance and replacement of these flags, they have become more of an eyesore.
A variety of flags can be seen in Karachi billowing in the wind. Travelling around one can never miss the vertical stripes of red, green and white flags of the incumbent political party. Meanwhile, another party which does not wish to be left behind has also adorned the city with black, red and green colours of its flags.
These flags also feature different emblems like arrows, alongside crescent and stars, in some cases the sacred Kalima or the Takbeer is also written across the banner. Unfortunately, rather than treating such flags with esteem, they are usually left hung up like buntings for ages.
Often the flags can be seen at half mast or even coiled around poles. In some cases the banners have become filthy and worn out. "These flags do not add any charm to the metropolis; rather their dreadful condition is an insult to the city. Once an event is over the organisers should take the flags off with respect. There should be a strict punishment for such an insult of a flag since it deserves a great respect from all," comments Abdullah, a 34-year-old labourer.
In his defence, Malik Zameer, Senior Vice-President PSF, District Malir, says: "The showcase of flags around the metropolitan is for several reasons such as to show the presence of our party since every political party has a fair right to do so. Besides, it is also to welcome our political leaders and to mark our domain of rule in certain areas. These flags can not be removed even if they are in dismal conditions."
But Salman Salim, a university student, believes there are other useful ways in which political parties can attract attention. "Since these flags are for promotional purposes, a better idea can be executed by political parties. A plantation campaign can be started around the city. The names of the respective parties can be marked on plaques placed nearby. In this way they will not only get a chance to promote their agenda but will also be able to gain the support of the civilians for adding more value to the city."
When questioned why most flags are not removed after a political party campaign ends, Kolachi learnt that it is because "nobody is paid for the job". "The volunteers who are responsible to put these flags are paid and also offered perks for the job. However, the same is not the case when it comes to removing them and cleaning the city that is why no one takes responsibility. In some areas individuals volunteer to do so, but there are no official orders," adds Zameer.
A college lecturer, S. Atif, suggests the government should allocate special billboards for political parties to run their campaign and for religious advertisements in order to discourage various groups from tying flags around poles on every street. "Posters are a better way of promoting. As for decorations during special occasions, there should be some kind of agreement between the political parties and the ruling city government whereby flags would be displayed for a limited period of time."
According to the Pakistani law, 'Due care and consideration should be given to the national flag and it should never be allowed to drag along the ground. And a tattered or faded flag of Pakistan should be removed and replaced with a new one.' But what we witness in our city is entirely conflicting. We not only view disrespect of the national flag for days on an end after August 14 every year, but of flags of other organisations too.
A former lecturer from the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi, Muhammad Haroon says the government should impose taxes on political parties before permitting them to hoist flags ubiquitously in the city. "The amount collected should be spent on the development of the metropolis," he suggests.
An advocate of the Sindh High Court, Emad-ul-Hasan, confirmed to Kolachi that all political parties are required to take an official permission from the city government before they plan a rally. "The official process includes permission either from the District Nazim, if the flags are within one specific area, or from the City Nazim, if the display is on a larger level," explained Advocate Salim Rajan. However, no political party follows this procedure, a political activist on condition of anonymity, told Kolachi.
Another related law permits a resident of any area to sue the concerned organisation if an inappropriate display of the flag or any promotional piece causes him inconvenience in one way or the other, adds Advocate Hasan.
However, Farooq Sami, a member of the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) claims that as per the policy of his party, they are not allowed to showcase flags on the roads which is why they restrict the display of their party flags inside various institutions of the metropolis. "We respect the text written on our flag, which is why we don't place them randomly on every street."
Observers are of the opinion that the only way this mega city can be given an improved look is through the efforts and intervention by the City Government that should restrict the hoisting of flags to a limited period of time during the election period or major rallies by political parties. As an Iranian student residing in Karachi says: "It is simply not a good idea to use flags to 'decorate' this city. I am sure there are other [useful] ways a political party can make its presence felt."