10th BRICS Trade Union Forum Meeting
14-15 July 2021, (Online by Video conference)
In connection with the BRICS Labour & Employment Ministers' Meeting (LEMM) on
Presented to BRICS LEMM, 2021 by Hiranmay Pandya President BMS
BRICS Trade Union Forum (TUF) comprising of national trade union centres from the five member nations, viz., Federative Republic of Brazil, the Russian Federation, the Republic of India, the People's Republic of China and the Republic of South Africa, held their plenary meeting online on 14th and 15th July, 2021 under the Indian chairmanship.The Forum feels that the whole world is passing through a critical situation created by the Covid 19 health crisis. Only through unity of all in the world of work can we tide over the crisis.
BRICS trade unions are handling a massive challenge caused by the pandemic, particularly, the protection of rights and interests of employees switched to remote work by their employers. It would be good in exchanging information and opinions on the regulation of this process in BRICS countries; the position of employers when introducing distance (remote) work, and measures taken by BRICS trade unions to protect the interests of workers involved in this form of work.
We emphasize that the drastic world crisis resulting from the Pandemic has hit our BRICS countries in full. There is worsening of unemployment and the exponential expansion of poverty. As a consequence of the pandemic, there was an increase in complaints in many countries that women were forced to abandon their work to take up domestic activities, especially to take care of their children who were isolated at home, without any support from day care centres or other forms of social assistance for children. In addition many women lose their formal job. This situation is aggravated by informality among women which is a reality in many BRICS countries. It has created a situation where millions and millions lost their jobs and were thrown out of any sort of income. BRICS countries contains 45% of the world's economically active population. Poverty, inequality and unemployment are on the rise and industries were shut down in large numbers, many of which have restarted their work only with reduced workforce. Covid 19 has extended the timeline of all Governmental efforts to improve the conditions of labour.
Strong presence of the State and the private sector is necessary to provide the indispensable support in the fight against poverty, misery, unemployment and social inequalities in the BRICS countries, during this post-pandemic process, as many economies have been doing. BRICS countries should adopt processes that induce the economic recovery, with a policy of employment generation, without abandoning the precautions and guidelines given by the WHO.
In such a grave situation still continuing, the BRICS labour ministerial this year assumes importance. Workers' rights are human rights; hence BRICS governments have to focus their attention on the perils of workers.
We welcome the four priority issues rightly chosen by the Labour Ministerial focussing on some of the concerns of labour which are vital in the world of work.
Social Security Agreements
The issue paper “Promoting Social Security Agreements amongst BRICS Nations” is very vital in the times of the destructive invasion of the pandemic. Workers from BRICS countries form a major part in the 272 million international migrants, most of them being youngsters.
In general, we support efforts to improve the level of social protection of migrant workers being citizens of BRICS countries by preventing double liability for payment of social security contributions within BRICS using the instruments and tools offered by the International Social Security Association. In our opinion, such instruments and tools can be a subject of both bilateral and multilateral agreements, provided that the level of social protection of workers on business trips abroad, or who has concluded a contract with foreign employer, will not decrease in their countries of residence, and that workers in the countries of their current employment will not incur non-recoverable or unjustified insurance costs in those countries.
We propose the following to be seriously considered by the ministerial. Well framed and coordinated multilateral social security agreement between the BRICS countries for transnational migrant workers and their mobility, welfare etc. shall be an important step. Comprehensive social security framework is essential for the protection of the lives of workers and their dependent families. Migrant workers including short period workers, should be assured social security and other protections on par with the local workers. Other categories of workers that need social security protection includes seasonal, traditional and domestic workers.
Universal social security is the long-lasting solution.
The conclusions of the 2021 ILC Social Security debate reaffirm the importance of universal social protection and underline the critical role that social protection must play in supporting an economic recovery for everyone and building resilience against future crises. The conclusions underline that many measures implemented during the pandemic have thrown a lifeline to many vulnerable workers and families throughout the world and have allowed many enterprises to survive. However, the development of effective social protection systems cannot be achieved through one-off crisis response measures; it requires sustained action and political commitment.
Two conclusions are of the upmost importance. The first one reaffirms the need for publicly organized social protection systems, consisting of both social protection floors and higher levels of contributory social security schemes in line with ILO Convention No. 102 and Recommendation No. 202. While additional pillars of the social security system can exist, the conclusions make it clear that these must be a complement, and not a replacement, to Member States' social security systems. In this respect, the conclusions reject the privatization of social security and reaffirm the importance of publicly organized, collectively financed systems as the only means to deliver on the human right to protection.
The second conclusion refers to the Global Social Protection Fund (USPF), the coordination among international institutions and the ILO's leadership role. A proposal on the USPF is currently being discussed within the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Financing for Development Process, and other international fora. Such a fund would serve to kick start financing for countries that do not have sufficient fiscal space to set up social protection systems by themselves in the short term. It would support the set-up of statutory social protection systems, grounded in law and in line with international labour standards. Additionally, it would help stimulate domestic resource mobilization, in order to support countries to build up their capacity to finance social protection over the medium to long term. Currently, the social security benefits are limited only to old age pension for foreign workers of more than 10 years of service in the BRICS nations. This needs to be extended to other benefits like medical, health, unemployment benefit, gratuity etc. Unemployment allowance system, free medical insurance and other supportive measures have to be universalised and budgetary support needs to be provided.
There needs to be clear provisions on social security facilitation centres, enrolment, contribution, organisational set up, disbursement of benefits etc. For that, host country has a role to play being the place of work; and sending countries have to give all support, especially controlling the recruiting agencies and giving proactive role to embassies in host countries working in tandem with the host Governments.
On production of a certificate of Coverage (CoC) from their home country's social security institution, the host country should exempt the worker from social security contribution. Employers should not be compelled to make dual social security contribution in both the home and host countries. Similarly, past contribution in host country should entitle them for benefits in home country through portability. For returnees, portability of the benefits to their home countries is an important aspect to be included in the agreement. It will prevent loss of their hard-earned money.
Uniform social security schemes among BRICS countries also have to be achieved by sharing of their experiences. Gathering data on migration, documentation of different aspects, and sharing in between of information and experiences on social security among BRICS countries are to be made. BRICS members have to utilise the innovations brought about by digital and other technology to advance the above objectives. Hassle free cross border movements for jobs are needed.
Migrant workers are to be ensured decent work as reiterated by ILO.ILO has prescribed in 2017, five elements of social protection of workers to be included in social security agreements viz.,
- equality of treatment,
- portability of benefits,
- applicability of legislation at a given point of time only of one country (i.e., usually the host country),
- totalising period of insurance in different countries together for eligibility of benefits especially of pension insurance and
- administrative assistance by institutions and authorities of signatory countries.
ILO guidelines needs to be followed especially C19, C 102, C118 and C 157 related to social security, and C 48, C 97 and C 143 on migrant workers as well as the related recommendations. ILO multilateral framework on the transnational labour migration of 2005 is also to be honoured.
Issue paper on “Formalisation of labour market” tries to identify those priority sectors for transitioning workers and economic units from informal to formal economy. BRICS countries contribute to 45%share in the large matrix of informal employment globally. Formalisation is the first step towards addressing the overall developmental concerns of many of the statistically invisible categories of workers. It opens the gate for a long road towards achieving decent work for all. It should address everyone in the world work including domestic workers, agricultural workers and those at the bottom level of supply chain system who really toil hard in the hierarchy.ILO R 204 includes in the informal matrix, categories like self-employed and home-based workers, members of producers' cooperatives, informal workers in formal enterprises, paid domestic workers, own use producers etc. Home workers that are most informal workers also need protection and voice, ratification of ILO Convention 177 is needed. Increasing emergence of informal workers in the formal sector is also a matter of concern. Covid 19 crisis has further reversed the formalisation process. The pandemic had detrimental effect on the informal economy beyond description.
Hence, we insist on taking measures to protect the labour rights and social security interests of workers' in new employment forms, urging enterprises to shoulder due responsibilities and obligations and calling on governments to assume the ultimate responsibilities. Firstly, adapting to new business types and promoting multiple forms of labour relations that are conducive to protecting the rights and interests of workers; Secondly, requiring enterprises to pay labour remuneration on time and in full without setting performance indicators that peril workers' occupational safety and health; Thirdly, exploring the social security schemes on occupational injury for flexible employees. Fourthly, developing vocational training modalities tailored for new employment forms.
We propose that the informal workers should be brought under the umbrella of universalised benefits of national labour legislation and better compliance mechanism, decent wages and social protection, cap on working hours, on the job protection like appointment letter, advance notice of dismissal, severance pay, paid annual or sick leave, protection for out works etc. Effective coordination mechanism and interconnectedness between authorities and informal workers needs to be created and strengthened giving greater role to trade unions. Inclusive fiscal or monetary stimulus support to informal economy for sustainable recovery from Covid 19 crisis has to be continued or repeated in a phased manner till last mile reach out is achieved. Casualisation of jobs in the formal sector is going to be the biggest threat for the future world. Hence legal protection and social protection are to be ensured to such workers. Lack of education, awareness about legal rights and skill inadequacies of informal workers also needs to be properly addressed. Clubbing the development process with SDG 30 goals can provide it a better vision.
We desire to maximise formalisation of labour relations at enterprises of all sizes and forms of ownership. Efforts to formalise the self-employed through tax legislation system have led to an increase in informal relations on the labour market, when individual employers rapidly begin to terminate employment contracts replacing them with service agreements with the self-employed. This way, such employers not only save money, but also undermine the system of social and labour guarantees for workers. Therefore, we stand for an integrated approach to the elaboration of regulatory legal acts in this sphere and the engagement of social partners at all stages of the development and implementation of measures aimed at formalisation of the labour market.
We welcome the issue paper proposals about the good practices worthy of adaptation and proposes an inter country tripartite working group including trade union members.
Issue paper ‘Participation of Women in Labour Force' gives a dismal picture of wide gender gap in male-female participation in labour force in BRICS countries. We clearly affirm that discrimination against women in any form is unacceptable, and we intend to continue to support all initiatives to involve them more widely into formal work in all sectors of the economy.
Women have disproportionately lost their jobs to the pandemic which is to be reverted. Discrimination in work and at workplace, unpaid care work, denying the productive value of woman's labour, and double work of working women are issues that needs some way out. Women are more employed in informal works which points to the need of accelerating formalisation. Skill training to women workers has to be widened. Women entrepreneurship has to be promoted and various schemes need to be formulated.
Maternity and other social security measures should reach them. Availing maternity benefit should not be a reason to avoid women workers. Governments have to support the employers in timely disbursement of maternity reliefs.ILO C190 to end gender discrimination at workplace and SDG-8 on gender equality have to be implemented in letter and spirit. For the purpose compulsive legislative steps also have to be taken.
Gig and Platform Workers
Issue paper on “Gig and Platform Workers: Role in Labour Markets” says, technological advancement has evolved new set of workers and innovative business models world over. The new corona virus pandemic has shifted the problems of those employed in the gig economy and the difficulties in structuring relations between platform workers and their business agents to the current agenda. We have encountered monstrous deformations of the rights and guarantees of contractors on taxi and delivery e-platforms. The pandemic has clearly shown that the lack of regulatory framework for platforms and aggregators, as well as the uncertainty of the status of people who work there, are the key unresolved problems that may give rise to mass protests and strikes. Hence there is a new concern to ensure protection to such workers. They work in both geographical area-based works and cloud works on internet. Gig work is a short-term non-traditional job generated through digital platforms where the job seekers and job providers meet together. This led to buzz words like ‘gig economy', ‘gig industries' and ‘gig workers' mainly related to platform-based e-commerce companies. Such workers are contractual and get mostly task-based piece rate payment. They are propagated as self-employed or partners of the business in order to avoid legislative framework controls as workers. They are also worst hit by the pandemic. There is mismatch between the huge profit earned by the firms and the payment given to the workers.
We propose that at first the gig workers should be classified as workers. At present most of them are working outside the labour standards like decent wages, social security, welfare and other labour rights. They should be provided wages, social security, welfare and other benefits on par with formal organised workers. Providing medical benefits and other social security benefits is also important in the pandemic days. Better sharing of business profit with workers can be achieved by enhancing wages and providing other labour standards .Enough reliable data is to be made available on the ever-growing gig phenomenon.
Occupational Safety and Health
We need to intensify our call for Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) to be recognised as a fundamental right at work. We also want to see our governments and employers come out publicly in support of this crucial action. Taking this step would have several implications which are desirable. It would raise the occupational health and safety status to the same level as freedom from forced and child labour, freedom from discrimination at the workplace, freedom to join a union, and collective bargaining. It would encourage more countries to ratify and implement the key health and safety Conventions of the ILO, especially No 155 on establishing national systems - with the involvement of employers and unions - to prevent injuries and illnesses arising from work. It will save lives at work, and we need to do it now!
We also make the following general proposals. The impact of the pandemic has been sectoral and hence sectoral recovery has to be planned. Promoting re employment of the workers should be in priority. Industrial activities need to be brought to normalcy. For the purpose, providing supportive loans to individual units, supply of raw materials and logistics, promoting capital and industries in the BRICS countries etc. have to be undertaken. We have to utilise enormous opportunities in trade, business between BRICS countries. Measures to enhance equitable and sustainable growth in trade will facilitate employment and inter country worker mobility. Economies needs to be strengthened to encourage employment intensive industrialization, expand opportunities in formal sector and create high productive jobs. Immediate steps need to be taken including worker-oriented developmental package.
Statistical system has to be strengthened to bring to light the various denominations of economically active population considering the type of production units, in order to recognise the gravity of in-formalisation. Reliable data and relevant statistics on informal workers and units is to be collected. BRICS network of research institutes should make use of it.
We reiterate our position and proposal for the BRICS Governments to recognize and effectively support the BRICS Trade Union Forum as a space for social dialogue for workers, which should be included in the official agenda and schedule of the Summit meetings of the BRICS presidents.
Cooperation Initiative for the BRICS Trade Unions
The trade unions of the BRICS countries shall uphold the concept of mutual beneficial and “win-win cooperation” by deepening BRICS cooperation against the Covid-19 pandemic, and enhance solidarity and cooperation, securing the wellbeing of the peoples and workers of BRICS countries and building a community of common health for mankind.
The trade unions of the BRICS countries should strengthen exchanges and cooperation to flesh out the BRICS Partnership on New Industrial Revolution, actively respond to the new industries, new formats and new models brought about by the new industrial revolution and industrial restructuring, strengthen vocational and technical training and re-employment, establish and develop social security systems, so as to better serve workers for just transition. The trade unions of the BRICS countries should join hands in safeguarding multilateralism by upholding the UN-centred multilateral system, making efforts to better safeguard the rights and interests of workers in the developing countries by carrying out “BRICS +” cooperation, and contributing to the achievement of the goals of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the ILO Centenary Declaration and to the building of a community of shared future for mankind.
We appeal to the governments of the BRICS countries to implement the above proposals in letter and spirit with the active participation of national trade union centres in the member nations.