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Brief Report of the Regional Seminar on

South Asian Migration, Employment and Poverty Alleviation in South Asia

9-10 August 2007
Lalitpur


Introduction

The contribution of remittance in the world economy is growing. Migrants are the change agents of economy and society. During colonial times migration was largely organized and facilitated through coercive means while now it is propelled by consent of migrants. The South Asian region is the beneficiary of remittance economy. In 2006 the World Bank reported that the South Asian region annually receives around $ 32 billion remittances. In Pakistan, remittances increased four-fold from just over $1 billion in 2001 to over $4 billion in 2003; in Bangladesh, it increased from $1.9 to $3.3 billion; in India, it increased from $12 to $21. 7 billion and Nepal receives $1.5 billion.

The amount of remittance flowing through the formal channel is higher than Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and Official Development Assistance (ODA). The ODA has shifted to least developed countries while FDI is made in those countries which yield better return. The remittances flowing through the informal channel is much higher but it is hard to estimate. The new globalization reflects unorganized movement of workers while 19th century globalization was better organized. While the state rules prevent the migration the market forces foster this process. Developed countries demand more skilled workers while developing countries and Gulf region demand all types of migrants. The outsourcing of jobs has negative effect on migration. South Asian countries must work together to protect their workers in the sending, transit and receiving countries because the remittances they bring have contributed to employment generation, poverty alleviation and social development in the region. In South Asia, labor market regulations and standards are being applied to formal sector workers.

Those workers employed in the informal sector do not have strong political agencies to demand for social security, workers protection, safety nets and adequate social opportunities. The proliferation of recruitment agencies in various countries of labor origin has become a new business enterprise. Those workers who are sent abroad by overseas companies without formal agreements on the government levels face a number of disadvantages such as low pay, overwork, passport seizure by companies, unhealthy working conditions, sexual abuse in the case of women, torture, kidnapping and even exposed to terrorist attack. Unskilled and semi-skilled workers in the Gulf region report news about these social ills. Workers from rural areas are misguided by the local recruiting agents and latter are forced to work in those areas other than they have mutually agreed. Similarly, low wages, long working hours, lack of social security, deceptive visa practices, etc are too common. There are no regional agreements or dialogues either for the mitigation of many of these ills or policies towards a closer integration of labor markets.

Until recently, the hard earnings of workers abroad have not been until recently precisely estimated by South Asian policy makers. Similarly, the political and social implications of increasing migration of the youth, unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers abroad on political and social life of the region has not been properly analyzed. Likewise, SAARC so far has not formulated a coherent policy regarding labor market integration within the region and abroad and common negotiating position and policies about migrant workers as well as labor agreements. Given the SAARC's focus of regional economic integration for attaining South Asian Economic Union based on a sound social framework of poverty alleviation and social charter, it is high time to address the problems of workers working abroad, analyze domestic barriers, develop policy coordination among the regional countries and build their skill and capacity as per the provisions articulated in core labor standards of ILO and global humanitarian rules.

Organizer

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and South Asia Center for Policy Studies (SACEPS), Kathmandu.

Participants

Total 65-- Bangaldesh (3), India (2), Nepal ( 59) and Sri Lanka (1). Think tanks, diplomats, government officials especially from foreign ministry, finance and labor departments, trade unions, donor agencies involved in trafficking and migration, employers' council, academics, civil society members. Two women were paper presenters out of 8 and six discussants while one was chairperson. Finance Minister Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat inaugurated the program. Pakistani participant could not attend the seminar due to flight cancellation while one Indian participant had to cancel his flight due to sudden illness.

Objectives of the seminar

  • To identify the common challenges faced by the regional workers working abroad,
  • To review the national policy deficits of regional countries regarding migrant workers;
  • To explore the possible areas where SAARC countries can harmonize their labor policies to promote the well-being of regional workers abroad, and
  • To learn from the experience and policies of regional countries.

Outcome

The participants expressed the need to formulate a number of measures at the various levels to optimize the benefits of remittance economy and minimize the social costs.

  • At the national level, it recommended policies on workers protection, establishment of proper institutional and regulatory framework, training provisions for the migrants, signing of bilateral agreement between the sending and receiving countries, pro-active role of embassies in labor receiving countries, fostering of protective and promotive measure to reduce the social costs of migration, reduction of transaction cost in the transfer of money, etc.
  • At the regional level, the participants suggested the need to review policy documents and laws and formulate a model policy, establishment of a SAARC Task Force on Migration, set up regional standards on collecting data and establishment of a mechanism to protect their rights.
  • At the international level, the measures recommended were the establishment of multi-lateral framework for decent work for migrant workers, development of a common position on WTO, agreement on international norms on migration, equal rights and protection for the migration of both male and female, etc.

The SACEPS, a regional think tank on regional policy affairs, agreed to submit these recommendations to SAARC leaders during the forthcoming summit.

 
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