[South Asian] Labour Unions Join Hands for a Cause

--Daily Hindu, December 5th 1996

For forging better economic cooperation within the South Asian region, labour organisations have come together under the banner of South Asian Labour Forum to actively work towards building a South Asian Regional Economic Bloc. The position of collective strength, the forum members feel, is the only way to negotiate the imposed globalisation on the developing world.

Also opposed to the World Trade Organisation's attempts at linkages of environmental and labour standards to trade, the Forum which was set up at Kathmandu in May this year with representatives of various trade unions of SAARC countries has expressed concern over the content of WTO's Ministerial Meet slated to be held at Singapore later this month.

During its first preparatory committee meeting held here on Tuesday, the participating members mainly from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan resolved to campaign on the proposed Multilateral Investment Agreement and other related issues arising from the WTO meet which according to them, is designed to benefit the Trans-National Corporations and spell death for local industries.

Through educative consultations and workshops among trade unions, non-governmental organisations and concerned citizens, the SALF proposes to press for the adoption of ILO convention based on the Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning multinational enterprises and social policy and the UN code of conduct for TNCs as well.

Briefing media persons here today the SALF conveners, Mr. J. John of India and Mr. Karamat Ali of Pakistan, said the only way to face international competition was by forging closer economic cooperation between South Asian countries and strive for an equitable and transparent trading order.

Lamenting that talk of labour laws always figured high on government agenda but with no respect for code of conduct for multinationals, the two members warned that the sustained pressure to put trade and investment link on WTO agenda was "a renewed drive of the developed world to enable the TNCs to dominate economic, cultural and political life of majority of the world's population".

Clarifying that SALF was only proposing a regional economic bloc for saving the working class and labour movement in these countries, the members replying to a question on "strained diplomatic relations between some nations of the region", admitted that apprehensive political atmosphere of the South Asian countries did weaken such attempts. However, they cited examples of China and USA and Japan and Vietnam going for better trade relations despite years of political differences to strengthen their case of closer unity on economic issues.

Decrying the underlying assumption of the role of TNCs as leading agents of economic development, the SALF has instead called for strategies for productive and remunerative jobs that would eliminate poverty and address the structural inequities in international economic system.

The preparatory committee also passed another resolution at yesterday's meeting calling upon concerned South Asian Governments to immediately stop the practice of arresting and keeping fishermen from other countries in jails for extended periods under the pretext of violating maritime territories.

The resolution has demanded the immediate release of detained fishermen languishing at present in jails of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

It also demanded that policies be suitably amended for easy release of fishermen and their boats, unless any incriminating document is found on them.

In order to address the problem and other common issues affecting fishermen in the region, the preparatory committee of the SALF has also decided to set up a South Asian Fishermen's Alliance. A planning committee which was constituted with three fishermen union leaders from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka as its members has been asked to study the problems, organise national consultation and propose an agenda.