A global union has urged solidarity amongst affiliates in South Asia to counter government attempts to undermine labour rights in the name of competing with other countries in the region, and to work towards greater protection for workers in trade agreements.

The calls come after global union IndustriAll this week met with affiliates from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Kathmandu to discuss how to implement its industrial employment agenda in their countries and to devise a regional strategy.

The groups noted the negative impacts suffered by workers as a result of "poor or non-existent" industrial policy-making by governments. Industrial policy, they say, has been driven by economic policy and has failed to address labour, social or environmental needs. 

"Deregulation and undermining of labour conditions have been pursued in order to attract FDI (foreign direct investment), while successive rounds of privatisation have weakened health, education, power and transport services that are needed to promote sustainable industrial employment," the groups noted. 

Affiliates say they face "a huge challenge" to influence industrial policy-making towards sustainable industrial employment, and that they will need to use their influence on local members of parliament and political parties, in addition to developing clear messages and a media strategy.

"Next steps for affiliates in all five countries will be to further discuss the issues in their own organisations, with other affiliates and with national centres with the aim of formulating concrete demands around sustainable industrial employment," they noted. "Where consultative bodies to government exist, the issue will be included in the agenda. Unions in other countries will explore the models of joint union cooperation at national level which exist in India and Nepal.

"Sri Lankan affiliates will continue to press the government for a sustainable industrial policy in the context of its proposed employment policy which does not currently consider how industry developments will impact on workers and the environment."