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Indian unions call for sustainable trade and industrial policy

1 October, 2019Manufacturing unions in India say the country’s trade and investment agreements have contributed to a crisis of precarious work, low wages and poor working conditions, as well as the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Meeting at a workshop in New Delhi on 25-26 September 2019, IndustriALL Global Union affiliates assessed the impact of India’s free trade regime across the manufacturing sector, including automobile, steel, coal, electrical and electronics, readymade garment and textiles, and chemicals.

Participants expressed serious concern over the lack of transparency and democratic process in the government’s approaches on signing trade and investment agreements.

Affiliates decried the fact that investment agreements made by state, provincial and local governments do not include conditions that make companies respect proper wages and working conditions, and there are no consequences when companies flout these.

Trade unions highlighted that India’s trade agreements, including the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), fall short of addressing genuine developmental needs and challenges faced by trade unions. RCEP is a mega-regional free trade agreement between 16 countries consisting of ASEAN and its FTA partners, which is expected to be concluded within this year,  

Jenny Holdcroft, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, said:

“It is vitally important that unions are able to intervene in the policies that impact employment in the industries where their members work. Trade unions need to work together at the national, regional and international level to make sure the conditions for doing business include job creation, job security and good pay, and ensure that the benefits of economic activity are shared with workers and their families. IndustriALL supports Indian affiliates efforts to work in this direction.”

Apoorva Kaiwar, South Asia regional secretary, said:

“Trade unions in India are deeply concerned about the negative implications of trade and investment agreements. The economic downturn shows that India’s trade and industrial policy regime is inadequate to mitigate the retrenchment of workers across manufacturing sectors or create jobs. The government must engage with trade unions on these issues, and move forward to achieve sustainable outcomes.”

Industrial affiliates resolved to intensify their efforts to highlight trade union demands on trade and industrial policy issues, with the involvement of respective national trade union centres. They also decided to highlight the current shortcomings and the need for progressive regulation of foreign investment in order to achieve sustainable development.