5 July, 2023The recently published ITUC Global Rights Index 2023, which ranks countries based on the status of workers’ rights, reveals a grim picture of the situation for workers in South Asian countries. While Nepal and Sri Lanka witness regular and systematic violations of workers’ rights respectively, Bangladesh has been ranked as one of the worst countries in the world for workers.
According to the index, the Asia Pacific region has seen an increasing erosion of workers’ rights over the last ten years. Bangladesh, India and Pakistan have been identified as countries which have no guarantee of rights. Workers in these countries face violence and repression by management and state authorities, including arbitrary arrests for raising voices against unfair labour practices. This is clearly reflected in the recent killing of a union leader by management-hired goons for demanding payment of wages for workers.
Viraj Steel and SLAM Clothing in India are featured on the list of companies violating workers’ rights. Around 70 workers of Viraj Steel who are members of the union affiliated to IndustriALL through the Steel, Metal and Engineering Workers’ Federation of India, were arbitrarily arrested, including the general secretary of the union, after management filed a complaint with the police in order to suppress union activity in the factory.
In SLAM Clothing, management illegally locked out workers and eventually closed the factory, following the union’s demand for the payment of outstanding wages. Although the Garment and Fashion Workers Union affiliated to IndustriALL through Unions United won the legal battle against SLAM with industrial court ordering reinstatement of workers, along with payment of back wages and seniority benefits but the implementation of the order is still awaited.
The report underscores that employers and governments are not engaging with unions in good faith to address the demand for wage increases, especially in the current global scenario when inflation is soaring but wages are remaining stagnated. A trend of sustained attacks on collective bargaining rights can be seen.
In Sri Lanka, the government arbitrarily removed four trade unions, including IndustriALL affiliates, from the reconstituted National Labour Advisory Council which is a tripartite body to discuss labour-related matters. This comes at a time when the government is proposing to reform the country’s existing labour laws.
The report also mentions that governments are passing legislations that severely undermine workers’ rights. In India, state governments have passed anti-worker laws and rules that undermine the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and extend the daily working hours from nine to twelve. In Bangladesh, maternity benefits have been reduced under the amended labour law.
Apoorva Kaiwar, south Asia regional secretary of IndustriALL, says:
“IndustriALL condemns serious attacks on workers’ rights across the globe. At this crucial juncture when real wages of workers have fallen and working conditions have deteriorated in South Asia, it’s important that governments and management engage with unions to ensure decent work for workers.”
For the tenth time this year, the ITUC published its Global Rights Index at the end of June. This year's edition shows that shows that the global cost-of-living crisis has been met with a crackdown on the rights of working people in every region of the world.
Workers’ demands to have their labour rights upheld have been ignored and their dissent has been met with increasingly brutal responses from state forces.
The ten worst countries for working people in 2023 are: Bangladesh, Belarus, Ecuador, Egypt, Eswatini, Guatemala, Myanmar, Tunisia, the Philippines and Turkey.