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:
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
Short term – until Dec 2015
Medium term – until the next SAARC Summit in 2016
Long term – To be worked out by the WG