Exploitation through subcontractors is an old imperial tradition that was often practised through well-known private companies, such as the East India Company. This unethical and exploitative tradition received much greater sponsorship and patronage after 1947, as it became the preferred modus operandi for every government in Pakistan.
The governments find subcontracts very lucrative. The mere fact that they involve a ‘contract’ means an inherent opportunity for exchange of funds a few inches below the surface of a table. It also means absolving oneself of every responsibility, mishap or poor performance.
The signing of a contract is a signal that the government department can now go to sleep and the subcontractor can unleash whatever the intention happens to be. Consider the heart-rending gang rape of a woman in a Pakistani train a few days ago, and see how wrong things can go.
Tragically, the heinous act was performed in a train named after a revered Sufi saint Bahauddin Zakariya. It looks as if the subcontracted private company specialised in gang-rapes rather than operating trains. The railway department unfortunately absolved itself of all responsibility of the act committed by three employees of the subcontracted company.
There are similar subcontractors dispensing long-term financial and social injustice to millions of sanitary workers across municipal committees and solid waste management organisations in the country. Many of these sanitary workers are children in their teens. These modern-day slaves are paid Rs500 per day with no social security cover worth its name. Yet other gangs of heartless subcontractors torture thousands of private security guards by making them work 12 hours a day, paying half the minimum wage, depriving them of even a weekly holiday and placing them in equally heartless government organisations.
Not even 75 years are enough for the country and its managers to learn that any organisation subcontracting a task is itself directly responsible for any violation of labour laws or a requirement stated in the contract. It may therefore be best to begin teaching this lesson by holding the head of Pakistan Railways directly responsible for the recent gang-rape in the train. Will somebody in the power corridors wake up to do just this much?