Center For Workers Education

for building a democratic labour movement in India

Why integrated labour law reforms is necessary to upgrade labour standards-12

The South Asian Economic Integration-SAARC and SAFTA and the Issue of Regional Structure of Labour Standards and Social Security

  • The SAARC and SAFTA are targeted to a South Asian economic integration in following terms as already done in South East Asian economic integration (ASEAN):

a)      Going beyond WTO and convert the whole regions in virtually one nation for capital, free of any restriction for trade and investments, i.e. for movement of capital. Capital of any member country will be treated as local for all practical purposes in all member countries

b)      To develop the region in the single market and production base in terms of free flow of goods, free flow of services, free flow of investments, and free flow of capital

c)      No regional integration talk about free flow of labour, some time they only talk about free flow of skilled labour i.e, engineers, management professionals etc.

d)      These institutions are in the process of emerging as regional states in term of authority to legislate economic and related social (and even political) dimension of policies. Therefore, with regional integrations taking shape, TNCs will ultimately be more powerful than the states.

  • This will have serious implications for labour all the countries in South Asia. To reduce the vulnerabilities created due to free flow of trade and capital, it is urgent to have a common structure of labour rights and social security. It does not mean equal amounts of wages, benefits and compensation, because it depends on level of socio-economic development of the nations and the collective bargaining power of labour. Equalization in above terms may never happen in capitalism without creating a single labour market of the region for all practical purposes. But a common structure may be instituted which may form the basis for unity in labour movement in south asia and SAARC level collective bargaining.
  • The ASEAN Trade Union Council (ATUC) has been putting forward the following agenda as a Trade Union Road Map for a Social ASEAN:

Rights at Work-The right to bargain collectively should be guaranteed in trade union laws, Concerted actions for gender equality should be  organized, Forced labour and child labour should be eliminated, Adequate mechanisms to protect migrant workers should be worked out;

Employment protection-An ASEAN standard for human resource development should be worked out; creation of green jobs should be pursued, The ASEAN should establish an ASEAN guideline for employment protection on the basis of the ILO Global Jobs Pact;

Social protection-ASEAN should establish a clear definition of social protection and set standards for each component of various Social Safety Nets, such as employment insurance, retrenchment benefits, pension, medical care, occupation-related accident and/or occupational diseases, survivors’ benefits, invalidity benefits, maternity benefits and other benefits specific to women, guaranteed minimum wage, general social development programmes, such as basic education, basic general health, housing, social assistance for specific groups, such as the hard core poor, community development, and provisions for natural disasters

Social dialogue-Social partnership– through constructive industrial relations at national, industrial and company levels — should be promoted in the AEAN process. The base for the constructive industrial relations is the recognition of trade unions. Corporate Social Responsibility, based on social partnership, should enhance corporate accountability to stake holders, i.e., shareholders, business partners, consumers, citizens and trade unions representing employees. ATUC also proposes to contribute to the ASEAN process, as its affiliates have been pursuing within their national tripartite systems.

  • In South Asia also an initiative was taken by trade unions in this direction and SAARC Trade Union Council (SARTUC) was formed. But it is still largely inactive.

In this background, it becomes urgent to initiate a process for integrated labour law reforms that also addresses the issues related to the vulnerabilities expected to be created for labour by South Asian regional economic integration.


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