KARACHI: Bakht Ali Kolachi, 39,a graduate hailing from Ghotki, is desperately looking for passengers to lift their luggage so that he could mitigate his own financial burden, a routine job he is doing for last 17 years. Like many rural dwellers, Kolachi had come to the urban centre of Sindh, Karachi, to find a better job but failed to get any suitable job despite running from post to pilar and ended at the platform of Karachi Cantt. as porters(well known as Coolie). Dressed in Green Shalwar Kameez, displaying the logo of Pakistan Railways, waiting under the blistering sun, eyes set at the entrance is the routine of porters and a common scene at Karachi Cantt. Railway Station where thousands of passengers arrive and depart from the city. As the passengers dismount from vehicles the porters run to pick baggage of passengers and walk from one platform to the other, going up and down with many kilograms carrying on their heads and shoulders, are the labourers who complain that the federal government does not think about them. The government has allocated Rs 42.9 billion for the uplift of Pakistan railway ignoring the wretched class of labor who have been rendering services at the platforms across the country for many years and are the subject of exploitative contractual system. The uniform of coolies was also changed from red shirt to green Shalwar Kameez. “Our uniform has changed not our condition”, lamented a coolie. Most of the porters hail from rural areas of Pakistan including Quetta, Gujraat, Ghotki, Sukkur. Due to burgeoning unemployment rate in the country they are unable to find any job in formal sector and they end up as porters to live miserable life. “We have only two rooms for at least 500 coolies which are insufficient and congested, hence I mostly sleep on the platform under the open sky”, Bakht describes. Coolies have made some interesting rules and principles to smoothly run the process. “We make a line and wait for our tern”, Bakht noted adding “If a car comes then one porter is allowed to receive it. Similarly, four men are allowed for Pickup or a car while six coolies are allowed for a bus”. “It depends on luck, some people pay us more amount than we actually deserve. While there are also many Thikkar(misers)who bargain to pay even a lesser amount”. Only 40 per cent people ask to take their baggage”. The one, who wants to join this profession, has to get registered himself first. “A Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC), one passport-size photo and a guarantor is what needed to get Billa number (a silver number plate) -the identity of coolie”, Allah Ditta, the contractor informed. “Guarantor is must for security concerns otherwise how can we know whether the person is an Indian spy or a Pakistan citizen”, he quipped. Since 2000, when the then-president of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharaf, appointed Javed Ashraf Qazi as Minister of Communication and Railways, the management of the coolies was auctioned to the contractor through bidding. There is no particular law in Pakistan to regulate the terms and conditions of contractual work. Although, according to the factories Act 1934 and ‘The Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Order) Ordinance 1968’, coolies are actually the employees of government but they have been subjected to the exploitative contract system. “If the number of employees is 20 or more and rendered their services for more than three months in any public department then the government is bound to own and declare them as permanent employees and provide all benefits”, says Head of Pakistan Institute for Labor and Research, Karamat Ali “They are also free to make unions for addressing their issues but due to fear of losing jobs they remain silent and continue to suffer”, he said adding “as driver is important for running train similarly coolie are important for running affairs at station, the government should own them”. Coolies are bound to pay 30 percent out of their income to the contractor as their immediate supervisors collect Rs 30 on each Rs.100. “We also pay Rs 5.6 million to the government each year and 10 per cent withholding tax for the each contract”, Allah Ditta claimed. When contact the Divisional Superintendent of Pakistan Railway Karachi, Aijaz Ahmed, he appeared unaware of the rights of workers. He expressed his satisfaction over the living conditions of the porters. “Though, the porters are not on payroll, we have done more than enough to improve their living-standard as compared to the past”, he said. “If the law grants them more rights, he is ready to do even more for them”, he said. Published in Daily Times, September 19th 2017.