Trade union leaders and migrant rights activists from the South Asian countries Wednesday called for taking up strong labour migration programmes by the member states of the Colombo Process to promote and protect decent works for migrants and readymade garment workers seeking jobs at home and abroad.
They put forth their observations at a session of the two-day meeting on ‘South Asia Civil Society Consultation on Labour Migration,’ organized by Migrants Forum in Asia, American Solidarity Center, Helvetas Nepal and South Asian Regional Trade Union Council at a hotel in Kathmandu.
The recommendations made by the participants including returnee migrants, rights activists, civil society members and trade union leaders from South Asian countries would be presented at the 5th senior officials meeting and the 6th ministerial consultation of Colombo Process scheduled to be held in Kathmandu on November 15-16.
Deputy country programme director of Solidarity Center in Bangladesh Kelly M Fay Rodríguez moderated the discussion on ‘Decent Work’ and conducted the country report presentation of four trade unionists from Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and India.
Referring to ILO definition of decent work, she said that ‘it involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organise and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.’
Presenting his report, Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation’s vice president Rashedul Alam Rahu said that ‘if we want to ensure the workers’ rights we need a worker friendly labour law at first, which is nonexistent in our country.’
Due to lack of implementation of the labour law, he said that Bangladeshi workers were not getting their salary on time and are being deprived of their service benefits, compensations and leaves.
About wages, he said that Bangladeshi RMG workers still earn the lowest minimum gross wage in Asia, which stands at $95 (Tk 8,000) a month. ‘Though the gross wage in Vietnam is of $140 a month while $116 in Pakistan, $137 in India, $155 in China,’ he added.
Mahendra Sharma, leader of the South Asian Regional Trade Union Council, a regional federation of national level trade unions of South Asia, said that citizens of the destination countries in the Middle East and Europe are taking up better paying jobs while leaving the hazardous jobs for migrant workers.
‘Internal migrant workers are also forced to work in brick kilns and other hazardous
jobs,’ he said, adding that full time employment has to be ensured as it is protective of fair wages and choice of workers.
Sharma said that there were employments in many cities in the subcontinent but these did not include descent works.
Sri Lankan Ceylon Mercantile, Industrial and General Workers’ Union deputy general manager SP Nathan stressed the need for maintaining sound industrial relations and effective social dialogue to promote better wages and working conditions as well as peace and social justice.
‘Social dialogue is needed for workers’ bargaining with their employers,’ he said.
Nepalese Construction and Allied Workers’ Union president JB Gurung shared his experience in Saudi Arabia where he worked for two years but was allowed only two days of holiday during his entire work period.
The minimum wage of the garment workers in Nepal was set over NR 13,000 equivalent to US$112, he said.
Awaj Foundation’s director for migration Anisur Rahman Khan dwelt on the living condition of the RMG workers, which he thought was neither good at home and nor any better in the destination countries.
‘About 90 per cent of RMG workers in Bangladesh are internal migrants who are vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation in the name of labour migration’ he said.
In her presentation, WARBE Development Foundation director Jasiya Khatoon said that there were relevant laws with provision of decent works but the laws were not properly implemented.
Jasiya said that members of the Colombo process should ratify the ILO convention 189 and set standard employment contracts to ensure decent jobs for their citizens.
Refugee and Migratory Research Unit programme director Marina Sultana, Avibashi Karmi Unnayan Program chairman Shakirul Islam and Solidarity Center programme officer Tasneem Binta Karim from Bangladesh were present at the decent work session.