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South Asia unions demand strong universal social protection

9 April, 2021IndustriALL affiliates in South Asia are calling for national, regional and global efforts to improve the weak social protection system which is exacerbating the social crisis caused by Covid-19.

During an online meeting on 25 March, with over 125 trade unionists from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, unions reported that large number of workers in the region are not covered by social protection systems.

Across South Asia, two per cent of the GDP is spent on social protection, while the global average GDP spending on social protection is eleven per cent.

IndustriALL executive committee members Anton Marcus of FTZ&GSEU and Sanjay Vadhavkar of SMEFI underlined that Covid-19 containment measures, including draconian lockdowns for months, have caused a major social crisis and called for strong universal social protection system in South Asia.

“The vast majority of informal sector workers in South Asia don’t benefit from the social protection system. The absence of mechanisms like unemployment benefits has pushed many into crisis, particularly during the pandemic. In countries like Nepal and Bangladesh, social protection is highly donor driven, which is not sustainable. Working people need more resources for universal and comprehensive social protection system. Social security should not be piece meal or charity based, but a right,”

said Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL South Asia regional secretary.

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, said:

“The pandemic has exposed the failed model of neo-liberal globalization. The impact of the crisis is uneven and unfair. Social protection is central to the political discussion on what kind of society we want. IndustriALL fights for universal social protection and global stability. The global unions are demanding a global social protection fund. Social protection is essential for humanity, a tool to prevent and reduce poverty and inequality, social exclusion and social insecurity. It has huge potential to promote equal opportunity, gender and racial equality.”

The ILO is reviewing social protection policies in South Asia. Syed Sultan U Ahmmed, ILO Specialist on workers' activities in South Asia, underlined that unions are important for creating awareness among informal sector workers on the right to social protection, as well as for using collective bargaining to win social protection for their members.

“According to our study, only 33 per cent of the workers received the government’s relief package during lockdown. As the new social security code is to be introduced, the government has stopped many existing social protection schemes. The new social security code excludes informal sector workers from social protection system on many levels. We need to demand adequate women’s representation in setting up social protection systems,” said  setup by the government,”

said Shalini Trivedi, Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).

A mapping of the existing social protection laws for industrial workers in South Asia highlighted the need for strengthening social protection system in the region. The study was undertaken by Neha Louis of Tata institute of social sciences as part of an internship with IndustriALL South Asia Office.

  • IndustriALL Sri Lankan affiliates are demanding that the government approve a proposal including an unemployment benefit scheme with 60 per cent of the salary for up to two years.
  • The Home-Based Women Workers’ Federation of Pakistan shared their ongoing efforts towards winning social protection for informal sector workers in the country’s Sindh province.

Photo credit: ILO Asia Pacific