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Brief Report of the Workshop on Trade and Decent Work

Organised by International Trade Union Confederation - Asia Pacific (ITUC/AP)

17-18 September 2008, Lalitpur


South Asia shares one fifth of the world population but has only 2 percent of the world's GDP. The daily per capita income is $1. Only 29 percent of people live in urban areas. Slow economic growth has delayed the democratic transformation of societies towards freedom, justice and peace. The workers' remittance of over $65 billion annually has given life to its rural economy. But, South Asian workers have suffered so many of the same misfortunes due to their disunity and ignorance of trade union rights and liberalization of through bilateral, regional and multi-lateral trade agreements. Every year, some parts of the region suffer from food crisis. In many regions agricultural workers live in miserable existence. At the core of this development crisis is the failure of South Asian leaders to implement human rights, constitutional commitment and ILO core labor standards, fashion suitable public policies, create economic surplus for gainful employment and provide effective governance.

The state, trade unions, civil society and private sectors should invent alternative mechanism to transform unskilled and semi-skilled workforce into entrepreneurial class and give them a compelling sense of responsibility and accountability to struggle for fair bilateral, regional and multilateral trade agreements, strike a balance between labor rights and trade benefits and realize the goals of Millennium Development Goals and decent work. To build better future unions have to overcome the barriers to collective action through inter-movement solidarity and can ensure workers participation in political decisions.
The creation of a legitimate and just global system is possible where the North and the South can seek mutual adjustment to common survival, freedom and well-beings. These are pre-conditions for a sustainable regional cooperation and peace. The WTO has agreed to take note of the study of International Labor Organization (ILO) on "social dimension of globalization" that espouses creating just and favorable condition of employment, respect for ILO Core labor standards, social protection and social dialogue, corporate social responsibility, health and safety and gender mainstreaming. There is, however, a need for a Global Code of Conduct for the sending and receiving governments to protect the migrant workers rights. The stronger passion of South Asian leaders for upward integration of economy through South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) by reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers in the short-run and Customs Unions and Economic Union in the medium term has to be balanced with the implementation of social charter so that level playing field is created at the bottom of society. This helps to avoid the historical pitfalls of unilateral adjustment of workers as mere consumer of decisions and enable them to exercise collective choice on public issues. The Hong Kong meet accepted the "aid for trade." The aid discussion has begun to include the legal empowerment of workers, freedom of unions, free collective bargaining and access of the workers in the markets.

Competition in global market requires competing ability of the workers and countries and fair rules of the game so that market becomes a meeting point for all. Seen from this perspective, acceptance of LDCs duty-free and tariff-free access to the markets of developed countries, allowing them to protect their market, granting them incentives to rise up not just in commodity production but manufacturing are by no means a mean gains for LDCs. This has ignited the hope of LDCs from the multi-lateral trading arrangement. Only a mutual accountability of developed and developing countries to their workers can improve the working condition of workers and shape a common future.

Objectives: The objectives of the workshop are:

  • to understand the relations between trade and employment;
  • to familiarize trade agreements in the region;
  • to study Trade Unions' engagements and actions with international trade; and
  • outline regional follow-up and actions.

Participation: 19 participants from Bangla
desh (3), India (3), Pakistan (2), Sri Lanka (3), Nepal (8) including 7 women took part.

Resource Persons and Methodology: FES Nepal 1, ITUC Singapore 1, Geneva 1 and ILO 1. There was one women trainer. The workshop adopted lecture presentation, familiarization about the toolkit, slide show and group interactions. The ITUC office came with adequate amount of literature.

Themes: The main theme discussed were trade and decent work: an international and regional perspective, relevance of trade for trade unions, WTO basics: objectives and structure, agreements, dispute settlements and trade policy review, issues about agriculture, National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA), services, development and rules, bilateral and regional trade agreements, trade and labor rights, trade agreements and trade union rights in Gulf countries, and consultation mechanism and best practices. The comparative experience of European Union, Association of Southeast Asian Nations and North Atlantic Free Trade Area and South Asian Free Trade Area were also debated.


This was for the first time the effects of liberalization of trade on the workers and trade unions were discussed at length. The participants agreed to identify experts on trade matters from within the unions and establish a committee at the regional level to familiarize the workers about the implications of trade liberalization, social charter, consultation mechanism, dispute settlement and the changing power balance within the states caused by liberalization. They agreed that there should be close coordination between trade Unions, ILO, FES and ITSes so that workers are informed before the governments sign bilateral, regional and multi-lateral trade agreement. They also agreed to do follow up activities to engage trade unions actively in trade negotiations to reflect their concern especially pertaining to decent work, full and productive employment, recognition of trade unions in social dialogue, setting up of national and regional contact points and their inclusion in the global network of trade unions, monitor various trade agreements with the government and ensure the inclusion of decent work and core labor standards including development concerns. Some participants viewed that the workshop should have been week-long so that they are fully known about the implications of various new concepts, they are not familiar with in the past, to their life, freedom, work and solidarity. The workshop was highly interactive and participants appreciated FES for its support in organizing it.

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