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South Asia Forum of Employers (SAFE)

OCTOBER 3 – 4 2013



The 3rd ILO/DECP  meeting in the series  was held on  3rd and 4th October 2013 at New Delhi,  to continue the process of facilitating mutual cooperation among South Asian Employers Organisations (EOs)  for further strengthening their national and regional effectiveness vis a vis their membership and the private sector as a whole in the current dynamic socio economic environment. The two earlier meetings were held in Colombo Sri Lanka in 2011 & 2012.

EO representatives from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan & Sri Lanka participated.

This meeting also took the form of a workshop and  focussed on Labour related issues in global trade in the background of the recent events in the Readymade Garment Sector in Bangladesh; which again brought to the international forefront, the fundamental link between labour issues and trade.  New policy approaches both at national and international level resulting from these events were also discussed.

Among other developments of importance in a sub-regional and national context that were discussed included:

  • The role of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and possible “entry points” for Employers Organisations (EOs) vis a vis SAARC related activities
  • Important significant national developments in each of the employers’ organisations present
  • Role of EOs in relation to the Informal economy
  • Role of EOs in relation to Labour Migration

3rd October - Inaugural Session

Mr. Gotabaya Dasanayaka, ILO Employers Activities Specialist, South Asia welcomed the guests and participants to the Workshop. He drew reference to the previous meetings and urged SA (South Asian) EOs to make greater use of the “SAFE” interactive website for knowledge / information sharing on issues of mutual interest and concern in the overall context of intra regional EO cooperation. He thanked the Dutch Employers’ Cooperation Programme (DECP) for their continued support and its choice of the ILO ITC (ACT/EMP) as the technical collaborator.

Mr. Y.K. Modi, Past President, All India Organisation of Employers (AIOE), Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) and ILO Governing Body (Employer) member made the inaugural address.  In his address he highlighted the following:

  • The nature of the challenges faced by South Asian (SA) countries in the context of demography, poverty and the importance of an environment conducive for productive employment generation
  • The example of China that has become the manufacturing hub of the world and the ability for South Asian countries to emulate that example by utilising its massive young human resource potential to build a manufacturing base
  • The need for Government policies in the SA countries to facilitate employment generating investment to ensure the creation of decent jobs and economic competitiveness within the global market
  • The need for the private sector   to play a lead role in promoting further intra-regional trade & cooperation while influencing governments on appropriate policy formulation.

Mr. Jan Karel Bout, Advisor DECP in his address, explained the objectives of the DECP, its private sector development programme and adverted to the following:

  • The economic competitive strengths of SA countries as indicated by World Bank rankings are relatively low
  • Employers’ Organisations (EOs) have a key role to play in influencing Government policies to be more conducive to investment & business and promote national competitiveness
  • For EOs to play their role effectively, they need to be strong and representative of the private sector, be professionally proficient and financially stable. Most European EOs, are examples of strong private sector lobby groups
  • Over dependence on external regional groups (EU/USA) for trade should be avoided, to reduce vulnerabilities and a greater focus put on intra-regional cooperation and stability. The recent developments in the RMG sector in Bangladesh highlight this point.

Tine Staermose, Director ILO DWT, Delhi in her address made the following observations:

  • It is very important for EOs to be up to date on information and trends related to business, to effectively deliver on their mandates. The support of the DECP in this regard is much appreciated.
  • The ILO gives special emphasis to capacity building of EOs and also Workers Organisations (WOs) – The Social Partners and also ILOs key constituents, to enable them to participate effectively in the process of national consultation on policy and its implementation.
  • In a Global Market, with developed countries calling for a “level Playing Field”, emerging economies in particular, need to be fully aware and conscious of International Labour Standards and the implications of such standards on their export potential from both a positive and negative point of view.
  • The decision of the organisers to discuss issues relating to SAARC and the likely entry points for EOS in SAARC activities is timely and EOs need to look at being more engaged in Labour & Employment related issues.

With reference to the tripartite constituency of the ILO and issues relating to its expansion in the context of “representative legitimacy” she also quoted the ILO DG (Report to the ILC 2013, Para 98) – “With the guarantees provided by improved tripartite governance processes in the ILO, it should be possible to invite non-tripartite constituents appropriately in the organisation’s work on the basis of clearly demonstrated advantage and well defined roles.  They can and do provide added value in terms of expertise and knowledge”.

Mr. Arnout de Koster, Programme Manager ACT/EMP ILO ITC in his address highlighted the following:

  • The role of the ACT/EMP programme in the ITC, to support EOs in enhancing memberships & representation, service delivery and lobby/advocacy
  • The global debate on Labour & Trade is widening. Initially it was within the WTO on having conditionality between Labour standards and trade and the subject being vested with the ILO – to promote Labour Standards and for which the 1998 declaration (Core Labour Standards) was adopted.
  • The debate has widened both in terms of actors and scope, to bilateral trade, MNEs, Consumer groups, Brands, covering not only labour relations but ethical business as a whole, including human rights.
  • It is important for Businesses to be mindful and alert to these developments and EOs have a key role to play in this regard.

Part 1


Technical Session 1

Labour – trade: from recent events to fundamental reflection on the impact of labour policies on trade/export and vice versa

New Challenges in the debate on Trade and Labour Standards

Mr. Roberto Suarez, Deputy Secretary General, International Organisation of Employers (IOE)

Mr. Suarez’s presentation titled “New Challenges in the debate on Trade & Labour Standards” is attached. It focused on:

  • The IOE, as “The Global Voice of Business” in the Employment & Social Policy field
  • The IOE structure, role & activities
  • The debate on Trade & Labour
  • The arguments relating to the debate
  • Data on Labour conditions in Asia
  • Recent trends on the subject: Approaches of different groups – Countries, regional groupings, MNEs
  • Evolving role of the ILO on Trade & Labour
  • Action for Business & EOs

In conclusion, Mr. Suarez said the debate on trade and labour will continue. The role and interpretation of International Labour Standards will be a short term challenge. Business will continue to look for safer ground of action and global references. Involving locals is a key driver for success and ILO could play an important role in using tripartite consensus at a local and global level.  Companies should lobby with stronger and intelligent communication strategies and be better prepared to anticipate and assess risks. Fighting informality is the key to success in trade policies.  The debate on global supply chains and trade need careful management. Employers’ organisations and  the  IOE can play an effective support  role in this regard.

Workers/Trade Union Perspective

Mr. Ariel Castro, Workers Activities Specialist ILO DWT for South Asia made a brief intervention on issues/challenges for trade unions (TUs) and workers in the current context, which defeat the purpose of collective bargaining.   He elaborated on problems being faced and the work that is now being done in order to strengthen their presence both in numbers and as a voice of the workers.  Some of the major practical issues faced by TUs & Workers he said included:

  • Legal & non legal (Overt & Covert) restrictions/interference regarding Freedom of Association & Collective Bargaining
  • Discrimination of TUs & Members
  • Management sponsored Unions
  • Informal employment/job insecurity - (Contract Labour/Outsourcing)
  • Suppression of rights in EPZs
  • Lack of Social Protection
  • Protection for migrant labour
  • Weakness in Labour administration

He identified the following as some key measures/activities taken by TUs to address issues/challenges:

  • At National Level - TUs and joint TU centres are active in raising issues with their respective governments
  • Membership drives
  • Sub Regional Level - South Asian Regional Trade Union Council (SARTUC) has been set up to lobby issues at sub-regional level.
  • Migration issues with Gulf country counterparts
  • ILO standards ratification campaigns
  • International Level - Global Framework Agreements (48 Agreements with Global Union Federations & MNEs)


Recent Events in Bangladesh - Intervention by Mr. Srinivas Reddy, Director ILO, Bangladesh

Mr. Reddy in his presentation focused on the following aspects:

  • The April 2013 “Rana Plaza” building collapse and its consequences including concerns relating to loss of markets and preferential trading status
  • Tripartite Initiatives to address issues – facilitated by ILO
  • Engagements / Commitments with Bilateral/Multi-lateral agencies
  • By way of lesson learnt in the context of the global market, he highlighted the importance of Safety at work, respect for International Labour Standards, good governance of value chains and importance of image.

Mr Reddy’s presentation is attached.

National Level Engagements and Internal Initiatives:  Bangladesh Employers’ Federation vis a vis recent developments

Farooq Ahmed – Secretary General & Sabrina Islam, Vice President, BEF

The RMG sector grew rapidly in Bangladesh over the last two decades. It is now the top export industry and the largest employer. Safety issues in the industry have been questionable in the past as well but no substantive measures had been taken to address issues or bring wrong doers to book. The “Rana Plaza” disaster was a wake-up call that activated not only the key stakeholders but the country and the world.

From an EOs perspective the following aspects were highlighted:

  • The Rana Plaza disaster exposed the vulnerability of the market to external pressures  on labour related issues
  • The focus of all stakeholders now is on prevention of future disasters and improvement of working conditions
  • Payment of compensation to the affected is also a priority issue
  • On the factory safety front, the primary initiative is on assessment of all factories. Three initiatives are going on:
    • Under the government agencies
    • The “ACCORD: - A buyer/Brands Initiative
    • The “Alliance” : A buyer/Brands initiative
    • The cost of assessments is a major concern
    • Consequences of assessments can give rise to new issues arising from closures, relocation, retrofitting
    • Closures will lead to job losses and need to be avoided
    • Issues have also been raised regarding Labour Laws and Industrial Relations particularly in relation to Freedom of Association and Collective bargaining
    • Certain amendments were made in the Law recently to meet requirements as per International Labour Standards and further discussions are continuing in this regard
    • The multiplicity of TUs and the political agendas of some TUs have complicated constructive dialogue and consensus building on key issues.

Group  Discussions

The foregoing provided the background for group discussions that followed. The participants discussed issues and identified strategies to be adopted by EOs in meeting Labour related challenges  in  Trade. The  strategies  identified  are set out in the summary/conclusions (Section 4) of this report.


4th October

Part 2

Developments within the employers’ organisations at national/regional level


Session 1

Short presentations were made by each country delegation regarding  the EOs/Chambers of Commerce they represented.  An overview of the developments in the respective countries and the new / significant initiatives taken were focused upon.  The Presentations made in respect of each country are attached.

Noteworthy developments and achievements in countries which were of interest to all EOs in the sub region included;

  • Responsible Business Initiatives /CSR -  Mainstreaming  of issues relating to gender equality  and persons with  Disabilities.
  • Flexible work arrangements -  Fixing  of Work Hours/Night Work in factories/BPO Sector – Especially for Women.
  • Development of National Business Agendas
  • Engagement in National Skills development Initiatives
  • Streamlining Labour Laws
  • A more professional / Strategic  approach in relation to the  media
  • Employment / entrepreneurship  generation initiatives
  • Review of minimum wages
  • Capacity Building on OSH
  • Capacity building on EO Training in Lab Laws / IR & HRM services
  • Guidance for  Foreign Investors on Labour related  issues

(Exhibitions/trade promotion/helping exporters identify best products)

  • Remuneration surveys
  • Labour Market Information
  • Engagement in Labour migration issues.  Skills recognition and development/Re-integration

While the importance of EOs broadening their mandates and or working closely with other business representative organisations  to address overall “Business” issues was highlighted during discussions it was also emphasised that National EOs need to be recognised as the focal point for business on Labour & Employment related issues.

Session 2

Eos and SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) -Entry points for EOs

In the context of sub regional cooperation among EOs  the opportunities  for EO  engagement with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was discussed. The SA  Business forum that has consultative status with SAARC  is the The SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI). To enable participants have a clearer understanding of the SAARC Chamber and its activities and consider options for EO engagement with SAARC, A presentation was made on the SAARC Chamber by

Mr. Goutam Ghosh, Director Head – Arab & South Asia, FICCI. The presentation made by Mr. Ghosh is attached.

Mr. Goutam Ghosh,  in his presentation gave an overview of the SAARC organisation which is headquartered in Kathmandu and its role in working for the promotion of economic and social progress and cultural development within the South Asia region and also for friendship and cooperation with other developing countries. SAARC has six Apex Bodies of which the Chamber is one and about 17 recognised bodies which engage with the SAARC Secretariat.

The SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), was formed to improve business environment, to disseminate information about possible tradeable  goods and identify potential joint ventures. To enhance intra-regional trade and enhancement was the main objective.  The constituents of SCCI are Apex National Chambers representing large number of regional and local chambers/business Associations in eight countries

FICCI (India) played a catalytic role from the very inception with the objective of nurturing and empowering private sector organizations for promoting regional economic cooperation and is one of the founding members of SCCI.  There is no Employers Federation of SAARC Chambers.  But they work through the EFs in the APEX Chambers of Commerce.

The participants recognised the importance of EOs being engaged with SAARC to address / influence  Labour & Employment issues at a subregional level in the backdrop of greater sub regional integration and viewed the subject of migration as a  good “entry point”


Discussing Entry Points/Dealing with Migration Issues

Employers Organizations and Migrant Workers

Farooq Ahmed, Secretary-General, BEF

Most SA countries, particularly India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are origin countries and have large volumes of labour moving out.  There is a small movement of labour coming in to India and Pakistan as well.  The main features of SA migration are:

  • High movement to and concentration in the Gulf and Middle East countries
  • Temporary migration of labour
  • Predominance of semi-skilled and low-skilled migrant workers
  • Large numbers of migrant workers in informal and irregular status within South Asia.  India does have a large number of migrant workers from Nepal with an open treaty
  • Growing importance of female migration. A new trend in the last decade.
  • Commercialization of the recruitment industry.

EOs have the potential to look at bringing a collective voice to improve the efficiency of labour migration governance policy and mechanisms, and support services through:

  • Engagement in national development planning
  • Promotion of Ethical Employment through counterpart associations – Destination countries
  • Engagement in the international labour market
  • Collaboration for regulation of the businesses providing recruitment services to promote transparent and accountable growth of private sector
  • Participation in professional reintegration of the migrant workers when they return
  • Developing code of ethics for local employers of the migrant workers
  • Incentives for retention – policies to help people stay back

Going forward - There is a need for a strategy planning meeting of the South Asian Employers Organizations and to have an interface with the SAARC Secretariat. Labour migration is one of the areas where EOs  can work together within the sub region and  with SAARC .

Presentation on EOs and Migrant Workers by Mr Farooq Ahmed  is attached

ILO and the Informal Economy

Thomas Kring, CTA, ILO DWT for South Asia, New Delhi, India

  • Employment in the informal economy is substantial in the sub region. It ranges between 70% - 90 % in the different countries.  Difficulties  involving definitions and also in reaching out to the informal sector poses challenges in  capturing the real extent of the  Informal Economy in Surveys.  Causes and reasons for the growth of the informal economy include:
  • Informal Economy is acting as a sponge, especially for the young people who cannot find formal sector employment
  • New Trends – Contract Labour, Outsourcing – Resulting from  competition, need to cut costs, informalisation of the formal economy.
  • Certain jobs/professions are not covered under labour laws.
  • Many enterprises have difficulty in registering.  The  process is costly,  takes too long and there is no incentives for registration.

The Objective of ILO is to reduce decent work deficits  in the informal economy through formalisation; by encouraging enterprises  to transfer  from the informal to the formal, ensure that new entrants to the labour market are registered into a formal economy, create sufficient  employment opportunities within the formal economy.

EOs could play  a key role in facilitating  formalisation. The role of EOs can include;

  • Support formalisation of enterprises through awareness raising, facilitating  enterprise registration
  • Lobby governments for improved business environment for MSEs
  • Engage with government  on policy formulation

The participants  recognised the importance of the subject from the point of view on productiviy and competitiveness as well and emphasized on the need for flexible Labour Markets to promote employment creation in the formal sector. References were made to the rigidities in the Labour Market and to the national rankings in the WB and IFC  Indices  on “ Doing Business” and “Competitiveness”.


Presentation on ILO and the Informal Economy is attached

Session 3

ILO-ACTEMP  / ITC:  CRM Database and OSH Initiative

Arnout De Koster, ITC-ILO Programme Manager

CRM Database

The membership database is a project being developed by ITC/ILO (ACT/EMP) with the support of the DECP.  A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Database is a useful tool for EOs for greater professional and strategic management of the membership and their needs.  A brief practical demonstration on how content is created in the system was given.

Participants  were requested to contact Mr De Koster or the ILOs sub regional Employers Specialist  for more information in this regard.


Occupational Safety and Health (OSH)

A new training tool on OSH developed by the ILO-ITC (ACTEMP) was also presented.

From an EO point of view this tool could be useful in expanding  the scope of OSH training to member  and non member companies.

It has  25 learning modules with general concepts on health and safety, not for specialists, but focusing on workers and supervisors.  It is a modular and customizable approach.

The tools include , a DVD a  number of films which are  easy to use and a USB Key and a trainer guide. Each module is composed of a number of films and animations, brief printable documents, etc.

The first TOTs under this programme have been planned for end 2013  and will include participants from EOS in the SA sub region as well.  EOs interested in this training product should contact  Mr De Koster or the sub regional Employers activities specialist.


Session 4

Summary and Conclusions

Based on the two days of discussions / interactions:


  • The use of the SAFE website was encouraged in order to share experiences.
  • EOs and the  ILO will consider initiatives for EO s to engage with SAARC
  • A follow up EO meeting on labour migration issues was  suggested  for 2014. Migration can be looked upon as entry point for EOs on SAARC.
  • Re. The new initiatives  undertaken by ILO – ITC (ACTEMP) – The CRM database and the OSH training package, those interested can contact ILO/ITC (ACTEMP) and / or the ACTEMP sub regional Employers specialist


Based on the participants group discussions on day  one in relation to specific questions:

  1. What can EOs do on  Labour Related Trade issues  with Particular reference to OSH for:
  • Facilitating a risk free environment
  • Anticipating issues
  • Addressing issues that arise

The three aspects are inter-related.  The best means of remedy is prevention.

  1. Awareness creation among businesses on Labour/Trade related Issues – E.g. ILS, OSH, Working Conditions etc. Context of Trade related developments in the Global market, Labour standards, Global Compact and other related initiatives at Global and Regional levels
  2. Develop tools/methodologies for Risk assessment in different areas compliance Audits in different areas
  3. Public Relations and Media Strategies for promotion of risk free environment and handling related issues.
  4. Studies on long term prospects for Industry (Sector based) in global environment
  5. Engage with governments, workers, international agencies – all stakeholders
  6. Preparedness in response and rehabilitation measures in crisis situation


Identified  Interventions

  1. Provide Labour/Standards, working conditions, OSH related services for members
  2. Develop Codes of Conduct for ethical business standards by members (EO Value System)
  3. Provide direct services for better compliance in relevant areas
  4. Provide guidance through publications/websites to business/investors on national/international laws/standards

Summing  up  further Mr  Dasanayaka said:

“Listening to Roberto (IOE) about the developments in the world, especially about the strategies adopted by the different groups internationally,  EOs must at national level  think about and know what groups countries deal with, who is our biggest trading partner, where do we export most?  Is it to the USA, the EU or other countries?  Roberto even referred to the strategies adopted by New Zealand and Chile in   trade in relation to Labour.  EOs  must be aware of what  the issues are  and how  we react?  More over,  EOs need to educate the  business communities. Because  many  business people work in cocoons and feel they can operate at national level  without a proper understanding and appreciation of the pressures  when it comes to a  “level playing field” at global level”

He  thanked on behalf of ILO ACT/TEMP, the  DECP, Mr Jan-Karel Bout in particular, for continuing to support this initiative together with ITC and giving SA EOs  a forum to exchange views identify  meaningful strategies for their growth and stability at national and regional levels. He also extended his thanks to the ILO ITC (ACTEMP) and all the participants for  a successful workshop.

Mr Jan-Karel Bout thanked Gota Dasanayaka and the ILO New Delhi for organising this workshop.  He recognised Mr. De Koster’s special efforts with the two initiatives he is promoting for the EOs in SA.   He  looked forward to hearing comments from the participants about how the meetings can be improved.  He said, “Concentrate on Business and Organisation and creating a  good environment for companies, all else will follow automatically.”

Mr. Syed Saud Alam, EFP on behalf of participating countries thanked the DECP, Mr. Bout, ITC/ILO, Mr. Arnout De Koster and Mr. Gota Dasanayaka, ILO ACT/EMP and others connected with the organisation of the workshop and looked forward to further fostering EO cooperation in the sub region.

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