Introduction Session: Mr. Laxman Basnet, General Secretary of the South Asian Regional Trade Union Council (SARTUC) began the two day long programme by welcoming all the participants to the programme and thanking the, for the participation. He then explained the objectives of the meeting and issues for discussion. He also asked the participants discuss and prepare the plans and strategies to engage with the SAFE the following day. The participants included SARTUC affiliates from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Srilanka; Representatives of ITUC-AP, ILO India and Geneva office, FNV, and an expert on labour and migration.
Coen Van Der Veer, FNV: He extended thanks to the organizer for organizing the event, to the participants for their participation. He emphasized on the need for social dialogue and improvement of rights of workers including the migrant workers. He also remarked that there should be a clear and common voice from employers and workers to engage with the governments in the regions for labour and migration issues.
Haridasan, ITUC AP: He began with thanking the SARTUC for organizing the event. Recognizing the fact that migration is interlinked with decent work and rights of labour migrants, he shared that migration has been one of the key priorities of ITUC-AP. He also drew attention towards social cost and issues of deaths of migrant workers. He shared that these issues and many the facets of labour migration were also discussed in World Congress in Copenhagen last year and anticipates the same in Tokyo. Haridasan also shared that his organization has set up a Migrant Resource Centre in Aman to help the Bangladeshi migrant workers with listening their grievances and providing legal and other supports. According to him, these supports will be soon extended also to migrants from other countries.
Ariel Castro, Sita Sharma, Igor Bosc & Sultan Ahmad, ILO: One of the representatives called the meeting as a ‘historic one’ citing the reason that this was the first of a kind to have a bi-lateral discussion between trade unions and employers in South Asian Region. They commended real power and interest of the respective constituencies. They also suggested to link these initiatives with Agenda 2030 (SDGs) and Global Compact on Migration. ILO, they underscored, would always be happy to support these initiatives in the future. Another representative from the ILO also noted that the trade unions could and should play instrumental roles in preparation of bilateral labour agreements (BLAs) and MoUs, and also work towards making the state sign important international labour related standards and instruments. The representatives also shared that trade unions in the SA regions could find three common themes/issues to jointly work to promote the rights of migrant workers in the region: governance, protection of migrants and development and capacity enhancement of diaspora organization.
It was also stressed that trade unions, in the past, have not given much importance to the issues of migrant workers and have even not consider the need for influencing migration related policies and organizing the migrant workers. Hence, the linkage between trade unions and migrant workers is weak. The suggestion, thus, was made for prioritizing on organizing migrant workers as well as providing them with proper trainings for the same. The trade unions, it was suggested, could and should also review and analyse the labour laws of countries of destinations, and based on the evidence, they should develop their regional and national level policies and plans. One of the representatives reminded the participants about the agrarian crisis facing the CoDs due to migration and lack of desirability of decent work, and argued that people migrate as they are desperate to look for better jobs. It is not only the rural areas, he added, also the big cities will be impacted due to such migration. Therefore, emphasis should be put on enhancing decent work both at home and in CoDs, he suggested.
Harbhajan Singh, General Secretary : He began with thanking the SARTUC for organizing the event. He warmly welcomed all the participants in this even in New Delhi. He was stressed the Trade Union situation in India and recent strake organized by the TUs in India. Harbhajan Singh also informed in the meeting that the Government of India is not in the favored of TUs and also talked about the rejection of Visa of Brother Shoya Yoshida, General Secretary of ITUC-AP.
Dr. G. Sanjeeva Reddy, President of SARTUC: People migrate in order to support their families’ livelihoods when opportunity at home is lacking. Trade unions should play active roles in regulation of migration and make the state responsible and accountable in protecting the migrant workers – for which requires joint efforts of the trade unions so that they can make their governments engage with the governments of destination countries responsible. He noted that, so far the trade unions have not been much interested to work in countries of destinations and for the issues of migrants.
Trade unions could provide hotline services for migrants in CoDs by working together with trade unions, in order to protect and promote the rights and welfare of the migrants. They should also work more in informal sector to address the precarious situations of the workers, taking into the account that only 5% workers are in formal sector. International norms are such that they are just limited framework and there are no implementable action plans and schemes. Although employment creation falls under the key priority, enhancing decent work does not. And everyone wants to advise but no one takes the implementation part seriously.
There should be strengthened tripartite meetings. But it is sad that even the governments do not give heed to ILOs not to mention the trade unions. We have several seminars and learnings, but we are not following what is happening in implementations. Similarly, the governments are not permitting high level visits from UN and ILO or trade unions. Workers are isolated from everywhere. Collective voice matters in terms of negotiating with the employers, hence, we need to grow membership and organizing more workers. But prior to that, we need to get our own norms right. All the trade unions can work together.
There are issues regarding housing rights of the workers, confiscation of or/and new identity documents of workers – on the basis of which they can claim their rights and entitlements. We should also work toward making sure that states enroll the migrant workers under the social security scheme. Another areas of focus could also be carrying out social audits of work places where migrant workers work.
Dr. Jeevan Baniya, expert on labour and migration: He gave a presentation on linkages between migrant workers’ issues and regional and international framework and process namely SDGs, GCM, SAARC Declaration and Plan of Actions on Migration, Abu Dhabi Dialogue, and Colombo Process etc. He also highlighted some of the potential priorities on plans and strategies for trade unions in SAARC region.
Sangam Tripathi, ITF: Internal migration is huge phenomenon in SA, mainly in India. Given an example of how internal migrants working in various ports (34) in India, a union representatives shared the temporary nature of their work, long hours of work (12-16 hours), safety and health risks, poor living arrangements deficit of decent work including access to them and lack of them being organized etc. the representative noted that the workers are closely monitored by the employers and not provided opportunity to come into contact with trade unions. Hence, he was of the view that trade unions should target to identify these workers and create environment to improve communication with them. In addition, there is a need for providing language related support to the migrants so that they can not only express their issues but also it facilitates organizing and access to services for them.
There is a need of ensuring migration is free, fair and based on choice not a forced one. Priority should thus be given to decent work and policies and strategies should also be aligned accordingly. Skill development is a key priority for trade unions.
He pointed, as the world and nature of work is ever changing and contract-based and temporary works have been increasing which has led the workers to be in more vulnerable conditions. Hence, it is trade unions should engage with other stakeholders to protect these workers, including the domestic workers.
Rajendra Acharya, UNI-Global: He shared that the organization have been working with BWI and other trade unions in Malaysia to organize security workers. It provides support for organizing strategies. It has also been working with workers in retail sector and care workers in Australia.
Apoorva Kaiwar, industriALL: She stated that I have not worked directly and specifically with migrant workers as such, but noted that they cannot ignore the issues facing the migrant workers. She, nonetheless, share that their organization is collaborating with trade unions in Jordan in garment sector to protect the rights of migrant workers. They also have a loos network with trade unions in Mauritius where they support Bangladeshi migrant workers.
Shabarinath Nair, Regional Specialist for Migration ILO Delhi Office: He shared that he is recently deputed in ILO Delhi office. He shared his experience about working to prepare the GCM and how he had to work in order to put in labour standards and rights to the documents. In addition to appreciating the role played by Mr. Laxman Basnet in inter-governmental negotiations, he also shared some concrete examples about hoe African countries came together for GCM and how it was difficult to work with Asian countries, not to mention the SA countries. Mr. Nair then argued that, the trade unions can now show the GCM documents to the governments where they have made several political commitments to ensure and protect the rights of workers, and make them formulate and implement policies and plans accordingly.
Closing Session of Day 1:
In the last session of the first day, the SARTUc’s position paper was prepared and shared with the participants for their inputs and feedback.
In the morning of the 2nd day, the paper was discussed and revised and finalized to share with the South Asian Forum of Employers (SAFE). The paper was a basis for engagement in discussion with SAFE.
After that moved to Royal Plaza Hotel where representatives from SAFE and SARTUC had a joint meeting. In the meeting separate draft position paper were distributed. The joint meeting was chaired by Majyd Aziz via Skype. Kanishka Weerasinghe, Rogier Chorus, Laxman Basnet gave their welcome remark and highlighted the importance of the meeting. Sabrinath Nair also shared the importance of bi-lateral discussion. Dr. G. Sanjeeva Reddy also spoke about the co-operation and all the participants shared their respective views in the meeting.
The meeting discussed the agenda for co-operation proposed by SARTUC and SAFE. It was agreed that two organizations will work on migration and SDGs. (UN Sustainable Development Goals). Both the organizations will meet again to carry forward the future co-operation.