South Asian trade unions showed tremendous resilience during the pandemic to benefit workers for social security, health and migration

Welcome speech by Ms Dagmar Walter, Director, ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi at the South Asia Trade Union Conference

Statement | Online Meeting | 14 October 2022

SA TU Conference | Director’s Welcome Speech

Dear Maria Helena, honourable leaders of trade unions and dear brothers and sisters,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all to the South Asia Trade Union Conference. Over the next two days, together we will pool our thoughts and energy for Building Trade Union Power in A Changing World of Work: Protecting Workers & Promoting Social Justice.

Today is both a moment of reflection and rejuvenation. As I reflect back on the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past couple of years, I am reminded of how each of us persevered in the face of abject adversity. I am proud to say that the ILO – both in the DWT South Asia and the Country Offices, successfully sustained and evolved our engagement with you all. And this would not have been possible without your unflinching commitment to the cause of Decent Work.

During this period, the trade unions came together with ILO constituents to launch and promote the ILO Global Call to Action as a direct response to the pandemic. In India, trade unions established the Workers Information and Service Centres to extend all necessary support to workers. In Bangladesh, trade unions developed and submitted their joint recommendations to the UNRC for the implementation of SDGs.

In Pakistan, the trade unions led the institution of online paralegal services. In Sri Lanka, trade unions braved through crises to achieve tripartite agreements in crucial matters. There is a lot more that was done throughout the South Asia region - all credit to you who are here with us. And I am glad that we as ILO were able to support you in many of these endeavours, as part of the respective Decent Work Country Programme implementation.

Having said that, it is equally important to take note of the many challenges that trade unions have faced during this time. I have had quite a few occasions to discuss these issues with you – especially those pertaining to effective social dialogue. There is a lot that needs to be done to strengthen social dialogue, reverse the decline in collective bargaining practices, devise innovative organization and collective bargaining strategies for the informal sector, examine and intervene for decent work in new forms and sectors of employment, universalization of social security and OSH and so many other issues that we need to continue to dedicate ourselves to.

The safety of migrant workers is a prominent concern for South Asian countries, with pockets that lead global supply of migrant labour. We have also been seeing increased industrial accidents that underscore the need for institutionalizing OSH standards in workplaces. The 110th ILC this year has rightly included the OSH standards in ILO’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. The trade unions in India have taken a strong lead on this through their Resolution on OSH passed soon after the ILC in June 2022.

Most member States in South Asia are now reaching the end of their current DWCPs in 2022. In preparation, I know that in some countries trade unions have already developed their action plans this year. In the same vein, it is my sincere appeal to all of you to deepen your engagement with the consultation process of the new DWCPs. Your participation and valuable inputs are critical to ensure that the work plan of the ILO in the next five years is aligned and committed to your direct priorities.

With a two-year delay, the ILO Asia Pacific Regional Meeting will now take place in December 2022 together with the Arab Region. While tripartite delegations are formed as per ILC practice, I know many of you are preparing contributions and interventions. It goes without saying that the APRM’s success rests upon your active engagement. It is my appeal to you to make the best use of this platform to raise all your issues and guide the ILO in supporting you better.

Hence, I trust this conference will be helpful to all of us. I am grateful for your participation – both, in-person and online. I wish to particularly salute our brothers and sisters in Pakistan, dealing with major disaster due to floods at this moment. We stand with you in solidarity!

With this I extend my best wishes for the success of this conference. I look forward to the Conference Resolution that will become a guiding document for our work in South Asia.

Thanks for your kind attention!