Jump to main content
IndustriALL logotype

Alarming attacks on labour laws during Covid-19 in South Asia

18 December, 2020Across South Asian countries labour laws are facing increased attacks undermining workers’ rights including freedom of association and collective bargaining. IndustriALL South Asia affiliates call for building national and international solidarity to protect workers’ rights.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the containment measures have seriously affected workers in South Asia. Across the region, governments’ mixed response to the crisis have let workers suffer wage theft, leave without pay, non-implementation of labour laws, loss of livelihood and in many cases cynical retrenchment of precarious workers with no hope for the future.

National strike in India, 26 November 2020

The regional webinar organized by IndustriALL South Asia office on 4 December highlighted that the trade unions across region fought tooth and nail to defend workers’ rights. IndustriALL executive committee members Sanjay Vadhavkar, Steel, Metal & Engineering Workers' Federation of India, and Anton Marcus, Sri Lanka Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union took part in the meeting.

In India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh as well as Nepal there were attempts to change labour laws with negative implications for workers’ rights.

Sanjay Vadhavkar explained,

“The Indian government’s labour law changes have been passed without due parliamentary norms and process. Sweeping labour law changes encourage precarious work, limit recruitment of permanent workers, affect collective bargaining and almost eliminate the right to strike and make Indian workers more vulnerable to social and economic shocks caused by the pandemic. These labour law changes fall short of India’s commitment to fundamental principles of workers’ rights in international forums.”

Protest action in Pakistan

Anton Marcus added,

“Employers in Sri Lanka proposed many anti-worker and anti-women workers labour law changes including increasing working hours, changed working conditions, unilateral termination of employees without government approval and even called for suspension of labour laws.”

Both Indian and Sri Lankan trade union movement vehemently opposed the anti-worker policy proposals. In India the unions held nationwide strikes and protests. Sri Lanka affiliates fought to ensure payment of wages to workers for the lockdown period. But the government and employers are continuing to call for labour law changes. Both leaders called upon the affailites of South Asia to extend their solidarity support and defend workers’ rights.

Pakistan union delegates expressed concern over proposals to stop labour inspections, lack of labour law implementation and underlined the need to progressively integrate labour laws across the provinces and institutionalize national level social dialogue.

Bangladesh union representatives highlighted the shrinking rights of working people including in readymade garment sector. Workers’ representatives in government tripartite committees dealing with labour laws are often side-lined to the detriment of the social dialogue in the country.

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, said

“We are witnessing a big attack against democracy and democratic institutions. Covid-19 is a natural disaster, but how governments are responding is a product of their politics. Governments in collusion with employers are trying to dismantle all the gains of workers’ rights and legal protection. Laws related to wages, social security, occupational health and safety and industrial relations are modified in such a way that workers are denied fundamental workers’ rights. IndustriALL Global Union is committed to work strategically with other global union federation to support affiliates’ efforts to build unity and solidarity and resist the attacks on workers’ rights together at the national, regional and international levels.”

South Asia affiliates decided to strengthen inter-regional communications, evolve joint strategies and take further actions to defend workers’ rights.