PSAARC Working Group on South Asian Labour & Migration

PSAARC Working Group on South Asian Labour & Migration

22 April 2015


The process of corporate-led globalisation and structural adjustment programmes has resulted in a steady increase in unemployment and a drastic deterioration in the living and working conditions of the common people, especially the labour. Extractive forms of development, landlessness, privatisation, closures and retrenchments have led to loss of livelihoods and jobs and deterioration in working conditions. Further, the number of people below poverty line has increased.

The situation is particularly grave in the countries of South Asia where not more than 10 percent of the workers are unionised. About 90 percent of workers are unorganised, of which a majority are employed in the informal sector, where they are denied basic labour rights. The disturbing fact is that the process of informalisation in the industrial sector is increasing, with all its perilous consequences for the working class in terms of labour rights.

South Asia also is moving towards closer cooperation among its constituent states, in spite of the bilateral differences and conflicts. And yet Labour is not yet included in the areas of cooperation between SAARC countries nor has SAARC heeded the call for establishing a SAARC Labour Rights Commission or a SAARC Task Force on Migration.

It is common knowledge that differences in levels of economic growth, employment opportunities and wages as well as impact of climate change, disasters, and conflict drives intra-regional migration in South Asia.

An ILO study points out that in South Asia “the legal framework has yet to develop fully to protect the rights and interest of migrant workers.”  The study further points out that while “ASEAN has over the years developed an informal sub regional labour market” this has never been recognised within the SAARC. Moreover migration is viewed as a national security issue by South Asian countries with important consequences for the migrants.

PSAARC has consistently argued that the regional integration framework (SAARC) should be deepened to promote free mobility of persons and labour. The region requires policies that recognise migration as an issue of securing livelihoods and basic survival as well as a framework for deepening integration.  In addition, given the interdependence of the South Asian economies, integration of South Asia into global production networks, and the high magnitude of intra-regional and out migration, it is important for SAARC to take the lead on migration issues both within South Asia and outside. Common approaches are needed for addressing labour mobility within SAARC nations. An ASEAN type declaration on promotion and protection of the rights of migrant workers in the SAARC region could be a start in this direction along with setting up a task force on migration to gather data on migration patterns and evolve common policies and influence national legislation. Furthermore, establishment of a South Asian Labour Rights Commission at the SAARC level is required to monitor the labour rights situation in the region; establish mechanisms to protect working people from detention and atrocities in the border regions, in the sea and on the land; bring all labour laws in conformity with the relevant conventions and declarations and their harmonisation into a South Asian Labour Code.

The 2011 PSAARC workshop on Rebuilding Labour Movement in the Region had noted that:

The right to mobility with dignity is a human right. Migrants should be assured of dignity and the right to work as well as adequate wages and human working conditions. Safeguards for the basic rights of the local people must be instituted. We demand a SAARC mechanism to facilitate and promote labour migration with dignity and the institution of a SAARC work permit as a first step to institutionalise this process.

To take forward such initiatives, to both understand the issues at hand and work out effective intervention strategies from people’s perspective a PSAARC Working Group on labour and migration was constituted on 22 April 2015.

Scope of Engagement

  1. Focus on mobility of South Asians with crosscutting themes focusing on marginalized social groups – gender, caste, minorities
  2. Labour and migration across national borders within South Asia are the focus of this working group
  3. Trafficking issues are excluded from the scope of this WG
  4. Rights of out-migrants from South Asia to other parts of the world and SAARC advocacy for protection and regulation of their rights
  5. Interconnections between labour migration, climate change induced migration, disaster induced migration, crossboundary migration, out-migration, political refugees, forced labour and trafficking (this will define our world of alliance)


Short term – until Dec 2015

  • May-July:
    • Preparation of an annotated bibilography
    • Collation of documents and existing work on (i) data on migration flows (ii) mapping of issues on each of the borders, (iii) principles on which migration policy in South Asia/SAARC region should be based; (iv) mapping of organizations and researchers working on migration issues (in India and across South Asia); (v) government to government framework for dispute resolutions in situations when employers are foreign (e.g. Chinese infrastructure agency) and workers are Indian and vice versa Indian firms employing workers of host nation; (vi) national and international legal instruments, conventions on rights of migrants (and which have been ratified by South Asian countries)
    • Reach out to other organizations & researchers working on migration and to trade unions
  • End July: Organize a one-day internal workshop of 30-50 participants to understand the issue better and evolve a framework and sharpen the migration perspective. In preparation for the workshop, a background reader will be prepared.
    • Concept note by mid June
    • Background reader by end June
    • Invitations by end June (sent with the backgrounder)
    • Report of the workshop by mid-August
  • End-August: Reconvene WG meeting to plan further work

Medium term – until the next SAARC Summit in 2016

  • Coordination with South Asian groups working on labour migration – linkages with grassroots movements
  • Status report on South Asian migrants with case studies

Long term – To be worked out by the WG

Please send your comments to the secretariat <>, if you have any.

We would like to reach out to all those groups/ institutions/ organisations in South Asia who are working on labour and migration issues and invite them to join the Working Group.

Looking forward to your inputs and cooperation.


About psaarcindia

An alliance of people’s movements and mass organisations across South Asia Civil society (people's movements and NGOs) have been working together for some time to forge a people to people forum in the SAARC region and to enable non-government voices to come together at the regional level. PSAARC seeks an alternative, pro-people agenda to address the concerns and aspirations of the people, reflecting the struggle for empowerment, livelihood and dignity of the South Asian people as a whole. This meeting produced a 14-point agenda for action.
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