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South Asia unions prioritize social protection, health and workers’ rights

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9 September, 2020In a series of meetings, IndustriALL’s South Asia affiliates described the devastating impact of Covid-19, health and safety challenges and renewed attacks on workers’ rights. Their response to overcome the crisis is universal social protection, defending workers’ rights and unity.

As countries in South Asia experience a prolonged Covid-19 lockdown and containment measures, affiliates reporte job losses and increasing retrenchment of hundreds and thousands of workers.

Large numbers of precarious workers have lost their jobs, and many have not been paid at all or have received reduced wages during lockdown. The devastating impact of job losses are evident in the garment and textile, home-based work and informal sectors, where the majority of workers are women.

Lacking effective social protection, workers and people in the region are facing a humanitarian crisis. While governments have announced relief measures, large numbers of people have not received them. IndustriALL affiliates are involved in mobilizing resources, working with local social organizations and providing relief by distributing cooked food and food grains.

As lockdown measures have eased and factories resume operations, workers are gradually returning to work. Most workplaces cannot provide space for physical distancing and pose an enhanced health and safety risk. Large numbers of workers and their families face the risk of Covid-19 infection every day.

Unplanned stoppages and restarting industrial operations have led to a large number of accidents in India.

Many provincial governments in India have used Covid-19 as an excuse to announce anti-worker labour law changes. Labour law changes are also proposed in Sri Lanka. Retrenchment and lay off rules have not been followed and millions of workers across the region have not received their legally due compensation.

Collective bargaining agreements have not been implemented. Implementation of IndustriALL’s global framework agreements, particularly in the garment and textile sector have faced stiff challenges during this period.

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, says:

“Covid-19 has caused unprecedented misery and despair and a dialogue with union representatives in the policymaking process is crucial. The increasing attacks on workers’ rights particularly in India and Sri Lanka are deplorable. The democratic decision-making process and unity among working people at all levels are central for protecting workers’ interests and a just future.

“IndustriALL will intensify the strategic efforts to strengthen solidarity support for our affiliates. We are working together with other global unions towards just economic and industrial polices, including universal social protection and ensuring the right to health and safety at the workplaces be considered a fundamental workers’ right.”

Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL South Asia regional secretary, says:

“These online events were used to seek input from our affiliates and plan activities that will protect workers’ rights against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, strengthen union power, support affiliates’ actions on sustainable trade and industrial policies.”

The meetings to discuss national union actions and South Asia strategic plan started on 1 September with Sri Lankan affiliates, continued on 2 September with Bangladesh and Nepal, and subsequently Pakistan and India affiliates on 3 and 4 September respectively.

Photo from IndustriALL rally in Colombo, Sri Lanka, November 2017, together with affiliated unions from all over the world.