In today’s article, I shall discuss the importance of having a good working life, so that the rest of people’s lives can also be good. Last week, I stressed that we must prioritise things right and that knowing what we believe in and want to have, are even more important than implementing those same things, because that may not be possible in the short run, and it may also be beyond our control anyway. We can only do so much and focus on some fields, yet, we must have our priorities right in the main fields and in all fields.

In general, we should be on the side of those who need help and support, the last, the least and the lowest, as we sometimes say. Those in the middle and higher up on society’s ladder, and certainly the rich and wealthy, can look after themselves, even now when there is high inflation and price increases. This situation affects the poor more than the rich since their budgets were already stretched before new increases and economic strains.

In my article last week, I mentioned my wealthy friend who keeps reminding people around him, his young adult sons, his friends, and others, of the importance of getting our priorities right, indeed of helping those who need help. We can all do something, small as it may be. He also keeps saying that he hopes that young people don’t plan to have many children; one or two children, even none, because that would make it possible to live better, with better health and education, and a chance to find a job. Because he says, things will get more difficult in the months and years to come, as the government has also warned of a difficult economic situation. Salaries and wages will go down, prices will go up, and more people risk being unemployed.

The scenario is much the same in all countries, except for the unemployment rate, which is low in Europe, but prices are indeed up there, as also interest on housing and other loans. In Europe, people have become used to very good standards, yes, some are quite spoilt, I would say, and it is difficult to accept that they now have to tighten their belts, and live more frugally. However, compared to expenditures in poor countries, such as Pakistan, Europeans still live very well, with universal health, education, and other social services, costing little to the users. Most people live in good houses or apartments, alas often too big and therefore costly to maintain and heat, as electricity prices have skyrocketed. We should know that although people have ‘everything’, every family, even with just one or two children, needs to have two incomes to make ends meet and have some money left at the end of the month after all bills have been paid. Life isn’t easy for young people who enter the working life. Even with a good job, most young people need help from their parents to be able to enter the housing market and buy an apartment on loans from the bank. Housing prices are very high, especially in the major cities, but that is also where the jobs are.

When my wealthy friend in Pakistan says that we must keep our priorities right, and also help poor people, he doesn’t suggest that we should change the structures of the country’s economic system. That would be up to politicians to change. However, upper- and middle-class people, and certainly poor people, should realise that there are structural changes to be made. Last week I underlined that workers would benefit from joining labour unions, and also employers organising in employers’ organisations, with a view to fair conditions. The working life is made up of the two parties of employees and employers, and they depend on each other, and can only create a good working life together, with the state as a regulator. The state must work for improving the working life, not only for salaries and wages but also for safety and all-over conditions. We should all think about what society we want, what to prioritise and have suggestions for how politicians can move ahead. So, we have a duty to make up our minds about political parties’ tasks; we should support our politicians, not only criticise them. This we can do through parties, if we are members, civil society organisations, and other organisations, such as think tanks, and the media. All this can help us create a better working life.

In Pakistan, labour unions and other workers’ organisations are very weak or non-existent, and the government only recommends minimum salaries, but with a limited check on implementation and working conditions. This means that workers are mainly left to themselves and the employer they work for. Since there is high unemployment, workers are in a difficult situation to negotiate for better employment conditions and salaries, especially in fields of unskilled or semi-skilled work. The government on its side is also an employer, and employees are better placed there for salaries, medical benefits, pensions, and other things. The military is a good employer as seen from the staff’s side. However, also in that sector, it may be difficult to keep up salaries and benefits in future due to the country’s economic constraints as the military is costly.

Cooperation between workers and employers to find acceptable work conditions, salaries and benefits, is very important in an orderly society. The state (government) should define the framework, but the organisations made up of the employees on one side, and the employers on the other side, should sort out the issues amicably. If there are disputes, the government may come in to facilitate solutions, often through a mediator. We all must understand that good organisations make positive contributions. We must get rid of the understanding that labour unions don’t do that, and workers must also accept fair employers’ organisations and branch organisations.

Currently, the Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) has a serious conflict; neither neutral mediators nor change of the partners’ negotiation leaders, have led to results. Hence, on Monday this week, it all ended in a strike, the last weapon of the unions and the employers, leading to huge losses every day for the company. SAS was once one of the world’s best airlines. The president of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), Peggy Hessen Følsvik, siding with the pilots, blaming the SAS leaders for the stalemate, said that the ‘Scandinavia model’ requires that employees and employers work for common solutions, after all, they are in the same boat. She said that the Dutch-born SAS boss, Anko van der Werff, seemed not to have understood this model. Incidentally, the LO chief was earlier an air hostess, born and bred just a few kilometres from the Ålesund airport on the west coast of Norway. It is sad when situations like this occur, and it reminds us that no heavy-handedness or unfair games from employers are good, and exorbitant demands from workers are also wrong. That is the message to the Scandinavians and people in the working life everywhere, including in Pakistan.