MBM: Moneymaking Business Model

MBM does not actually stand for the above-mentioned phrase yet it is difficult to ignore how fitting it is. What does MBM stand for at LUMS? Well, apart from the abbreviation, zero job security, deplorable working conditions, and insufficient pay. Being in my second year as a hostelite at LUMS, I am no stranger to these workers showing up to my door in desperate need of financial help, whether it is for medical treatment of a loved one, or to pay for one’s daughter’s wedding. Recognizing my privilege and position in society, I cannot complain about this situation. However, it pains me to see the embarrassment that befalls these workers when they ask for this monetary assistance, as they are exceptionally hard-working individuals who fail to make a decent living solely because of the exploitative relationship between employer and contractor that they fall between.

The aforementioned relationship between LUMS and MBM is such that MBM trains and pays workers who provide janitorial services in the university. LUMS pays around 23,000 rupees to MBM per worker for around 150 workers. Out of this amount only 17,500 is paid as salary to the workers and the rest is supposedly kept for social security and other fringe benefits. An unspecified amount is kept as commission for the company. So the question that arises from this discussion is why does such an arrangement exist. LUMS can just as easily directly hire 150 workers. A number of labor rights lawyers have spoken out and said it is a mechanism for large entities such as LUMS to outsource having to worry about workers asking for their rights.

The opposing view became evident in an interview with Col. Amer Khan. He stated that the LUMS administration pays the extra amount to MBM in return for toiletry equipment and other miscellaneous items. Moreover, he pointed out that the need for MBM as a facilitator only arises due to the unreliability of janitorial staff. He said that since MBM commands the services of 1800-2000 staff, they can easily replace workers who fail to arrive at work.

In the afternoon of the 20th of April, last Spring, outside PDC where students enjoy their Thursday night “khoka raves”, a very prominent group of these workers gathered. They were in their MBM uniforms and they sat cross-legged in complete silence, refusing to work. They had not received the promised advanced payments for Easter. Most of these workers are Christians who were eager to celebrate the festival. The sit-in continued for hours until a large number of faculty and students arrived on the scene and the matter was taken to the administration. The protestors were hopeful of a positive response but wrongly so. The administration claimed it could do nothing as it was not a direct employer of the staff as if this was an unforeseen circumstance and not a premeditated plan. Anyhow the protest raged on hand in hand with the student body’s enthusiasm for the cause. MBM had no alternative but to succumb to the pressure that their workers had created and release the advanced payments that they were promised. However, this was not without its consequences. The next day 35 workers were removed from LUMS by MBM on unclear charges, according to an article by Abdullah Niazi posted on Profit. However, Col. Amer Khan, when asked about this, did not have any comments.

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Regardless of what follows in this saga of exploitation and protests, one thing is clear; the attitude of the administration towards the workers has to change. A legal take on this very idea would emerge from the precedence set by the Fauji Fertilizer case. Here, the law very clearly laid down that any company such as LUMS getting labor from contractors such as MBM is still responsible for their workers if their service is necessary to the industry. This includes both the well being of the workers and to make sure that MBM fulfills all contractual obligations towards these workers. An Ownership week was carried out very recently to associate values of home with the university. LUMS is nothing without the people who make it functional and the janitorial staff is as critical to this institution as any other segment.

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