ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Erratic temporality of work life at Karachi docks


Tahir Minerwa


24 – Timely Histories: A Social History of Time in South Asia


 This paper focuses on the temporal implications of the unstable and erratic nature of port work at Karachi in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this period, Karachi’s dock labourers were unable to secure a regular employment to maintain themselves and their families. Particularly the wharf labourers were employed for just about 10 to 12 days a month. Yet, this period saw an increase in migration and urban settlement, which even led to a housing crisis. Explaining the life of work at the different dockyards of Karachi including the various tasks but also the provisions granted to port labour by the employer, the paper will also address the implications of tardiness in port work life and some of the ways in which port work temporality impacted housing conditions for dock workers. It may be argued that the development and expansion of the harbour economy created a temporally erratic nature of employment that was marred by not just discontinuity and casualness from the employer’s side in terms of granting employment but was also complemented by a concurrent urge to regularise and enforce a work time discipline on the worker despite the erratic nature of employment. The temporal looseness and flexibility of the work contract provided opportunity for the migrant workers to maintain their ties in a “continuum”.