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A 5-day-long sit-in by lady health workers (LHW) in Lahore came to an end on Friday, after the Punjab government agreed to the workers’ main demands.  The demonstration by LHWs took place on Mall Road, one of Lahore’s busiest areas. The workers showed tremendous determination during the course of their struggle, with some hospitalized due to dehydration.  One health worker was injured when a lawyer struck her with his motorcycle.

The lady health workers staged their protest to demand payment of arrears for the previous 5 months.  They were also frustrated over the government’s failure to regularize the jobs of thousands of health workers in the province of Punjab.  With their protest growing in intensity, the Punjab government released Rs 1.2 billion in arrears, which are to be distributed to the health workers within two weeks.  According to a spokesperson for the LHWs, the government has also agreed to finally upgrade the status of thousands of health workers, which it had originally pledged to do back in 2012.  The lady health workers only backed down after they were shown legal documents in which the government agreed to their demands. They had been planning to shut down the Lahore Metro Bus when news arrived of the government’s concession.

Pakistan’s Lady Health Worker program is one of the country’s most important health worker initiatives. The health workers provide much-needed family planning, antenatal and child health services in rural and remote areas of the country.  There are more than 110,000 lady health workers in the country. Despite the difficult conditions in which they work, LHW’s are grossly underpaid, with health workers in Punjab earning only Rs 15,000 per month, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

The country is likely to witness further struggles over wages in the coming months, as the depreciation of the Pakistani rupee puts added pressure on working-class families.  Last month, the federal government agreed to the International Monetary Fund’s demand to allow a 4 percent depreciation of the rupee in order to qualify for yet another loan, which some government officials claim may be necessary to avoid a severe balance of payments crisis or default. Overall, the rupee has depreciated by 10 percent against the dollar over the past 4 months. According to the Express Tribune, domestic and international lobbyists are pushing for a further depreciation of the rupee by June.

Last Wednesday, hundreds of electricity workers held a rally in Lahore to express their anger over the depreciation of the rupee, which has increased prices for basic goods.  The protest was organized by the All Pakistan Wapda Hydro Electric Workers Union. With red flags in hand, the workers demanded that the federal and provincial governments freeze the prices on essential commodities and take swift action against hoarders and crisis profiteers.  They also demanded that the government raise the wages and pensions of workers in the upcoming federal and provincial budgets.

Ali Mohsin is an independent writer.  He can be reached at alimohsin1917@gmail.com

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