South Asian Labour Rights Charter

The World is witnessing the relentless onslaught of transnational capital on the economies of the developing countries, which are increasingly being subjected to harsh conditionalities dictated by IMF and World Bank under the Fiscal Stabilisation and Structural Adjustament Programmes respectively. The situation of domination has been institutionlised by the conclusion of the GATT agreements and the subsequent establishment of the World Trade Organisation. This has also given the transnational capital the freedom to dictate their terms on the developing countries.

The process of 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. Privatisation, closures and retrenchments have led to job losses 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.

Regional Economic Blocs

The international economic system is undergoing a process of reorganisation on the basis of economic regions, so much so that transnational capital is initiating investment and managerial policies and programmes in terms of regions rather than indivdual countries. In such a situation, it is difficult for any one country to individually face the challenges. The workers shall have to develop an appropriate response to these challenges in the shape of a democratically organised international labour movement. The labour organisations in different regions have to articulate their interests in a coordinated and united way, irrespective of their international affiliation, and move towards a genuine regional and international solidarity. The time has come for the international labour movement to seek cooperation, forge alliance for common action to resist the onslaught and to evolve alternative paths of development.

The South Asian Context

South Asia also is moving towards closer cooperation among its consituent states, in spite of the bilateral differences and conflicts. A genuine South Asian consiciousness, which has been present in a historical sense, is growing today among the peoples of this region. In recent years the urge for regional cooperation and interaction has manifested itself at different levels. Writers, poets, artists, scientists, social activists, human rights and women's rights activists of South Asian countries have initiated concrete moves towards establishing mutual contacts and developing cooperation among themselves. Labour organisations of South Asian countries have also taken similar initiatives towards regional cooperation and interaction.

Governments in the region too have taken initiatives towards this end, in the formation of SAARC, which was an outcome of the imperatives of regional cooperation. This cooperation is a prerequisite to peace, progress and development.

Notwithstanding the slow pace of the process of South Asian cooperation initiated by SAARC, the recent signing of the South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement (SAPTA) and the proposal to conclude a South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) by the year 2000, are regarded as developments of great importance. Labour movements stand for the establishment of a fair and equitable trade system in the region. In the context of globalisation, this regional cooperation can enable us to resist the onslaught of globalisation and to bargain effective and fair terms of trade.

The labour movements in South Asia have to establish closer cooperation amongst themselves on an organised basis in order to be able to effectively face the present challenges. This unity is necessary considering the fact that the governments of these countries have capitulated before the international agencies and endangered the national sovereignties. Though all the governments of South Asia have ratified the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other Covenants relating to Economic, Social, Civil and Political Rights as well as some of the ILO Conventions relating to basic labour rights, they have done little to ensure these rights.

Despite South Asian governments' commitment to regional cooperation within the SAARC framework, most of the South Asian governments continue to overplay their bilateral differences and conflicts to achieve their short term political ends. This leads to major defence expenditure by governments in the region and the highly destructive arms race, resulting in the bulk of the region's resources being squandered away at the cost of economic and social consequences for the working people. Further it also strengthens the chauvinist and communal tendencies among the people, which is extremely harmful to the unity of the workers. The working people of this region demand an immediate reduction of defence expenditure.

It is, therefore, resolved that a South Asian Labour Rights Charter be evolved through democratic discussion and consultation of all the unions, federations, and other supportive groups irrespective of international affiliations, based on the following principles and elements.

Principles and Elements of the Proposed South Asian Charter

1. Establishment of basic labour rights in all South Asian countries, bringing all labour laws in conformity with the following relevant Conventions and Declarations and their harmonisation into an enabling South Asian Labour Code.

i. Universal Declaration of Human Rights
ii. UN Covenant on Economic and Social Rights iii. Un Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
iv. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
v. UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights
vi. UN Convention on Rights of Migrant Workers vii. ILO Convention No.29 on Forced Labour viii. ILO Convention No.87 on Fereedom of Association and the Protection of the Right to Organise
ix. ILO Convention No.98 on Right to Organise and Collective
x. ILO Convention No.100 on Equal Remuneration
xi. ILO Convention No.102 on Social Security xii. ILO Convention No.103 on Maternity Protection xiii. ILO Convention NO.105 on Abolition of Forced Labour xiv. ILO Convention No.111 on Discrimination in respect of Employment and Occupation
xv. ILO Convention No.117 on Social Policy xvi. ILO Convention No.138 on Minimum Age xvii. ILO Convention No.141 on Rural Workers' Organisations, and Conventions relating to Occupational Health and Safety, and Working Enviroment.

2. Adoption of UN Labour Rights Convention.

3. Adoption of ILO Convention on Trans-National Corporations based on the Tripatite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Poliy.

4. Adoption of ILO Convention on Homeworkers.

5. Establishment of a SAARC Code of Conduct for Trans-National Corporations, based on ILO's Tripartite Declaration.

6. Establishment of a National Need-Based Minimum Wage and the formation of a Wage Policy in each SAARC country.

7. Establishment of an institutional mechanism, which should have provision for SAARC work permit, for protection of the rights of workers within the SAARC Region as well as Migrants from South Asia to other regions.

8. Establishment of mechanism for Protection from Detention and Atrocities of working people in the border areas of South Asian countries, in the sea and on the land.

9. Establishment of SAARC policies and instruments to protect the working people dependent on natural resources, including fishworkers and forest workers.

10. Establishment of Right to Work in all the South Asian countries. The growing unemployment in South Asian countries to be addresssed through the Employment Guarantee Scheme and Right to Work.

11. Establishment of Labour Rights Commissions in all South Asian countries and a South Asian Labour Rights Commission at the SAARC level to monitor the labour rights situation and the implementation of laws. The Commission shall have trade union representatives.

The Consultation resolves to constitute a Preparatory Committee for the formation of a South Asian Labour Forum, and further calls upon wider discussion within the labour movements in South Asian countries with a view to evolve and adopt a common Charter of Labour Rights at the next Consultation to be held in Kathmandu within three to four months.