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 South Asian Forum of Employers || SAFE :: South Asian Forum of Employers (SAFE) 5th meeting, 10 and 11 March 2016, Colombo Sri Lanka
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 Subject :South Asian Forum of Employers (SAFE).. 14-12-2016 20:36:19 
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Attending: Ms Meena WARDAK; Mr Abdul Qadir BAHMAN (ACCI, Afghanistan)

Messrs. Asif IBRAHIM; Absal Shaquib QUORESHI (BEF, Bangladesh)

Messrs. Bhagirati DHAL; Rajinder Singh MAKER (EFI, India)

Mr SRINAGESHWAR (AIOE, India)

Mr Yagyaman SHAKYA (FNCCI, Nepal)

Messrs. Zaki Ahmed KHAN; Fasihul Karim SIDDIQI (EFP, Pakistan)

Mr Kanishka WEERASINGHE (EFC, Sri Lanka)

 

Mr Arnout DE KOSTER (ITC/ILO, Italy)

Mr Ravi PEIRIS (ILO South Asia)

Minutes by: Mr Rogier CHORUS (DECP, Netherlands)

  1. 1. Introductory statements to this 5th SAFE meeting were made by Messrs. Chorus, De Koster and Peiris. They stressed the importance of a thorough and continuing exchange of information inside SAFE, and were pleased to see all EOs of the six member countries represented. They also thanked the EFC for hosting once more the meeting in Colombo. Mr Chorus expressed the continuing interest of DECP in facilitating SAFE, inter alia by covering the meeting and transport expenses of the participants.

The EO representatives introduced themselves.

  1. 2. Advocacy & Lobbying

Mr. Chorus made a presentation on the eight steps of the lobby planning cycle (attached) as an introduction to the subject. Subsequently for every EO presentations were made by the participants:

-          Mr. Bahman on Afghanistan:

300 enterprises have been consulted in order to develop a business agenda with the most important issues to be dealt with by the central government. Eleven priorities were listed: a one-stop-shop system for starting a business with an electronic permit system in order to avoid corruption; creating an attractive investment climate by improving dispute settlement, insolvency, and contract law; setting up industrial parks across the country; creating a legal framework for public-private-partnerships (PPP); and improving transport infrastructure through dry ports etc. The priority list was presented to the Finance Minister and the President.

-          Mr. Quoreshi on Bangladesh:

The BEF’s main concern is social policy, with a focus on women empowerment and child protection. As a result child labour does not occur any longer in the formal economy. Action was taken to revise the Labour Act in 2013. The textile plant disaster in 2013 prompted the BEF to develop a code on structural and fire safety, by which each firm has to install an inspection system. Occupational safety & health (OSH) is a priority: with the help of ITC/ILO an OSH handbook was made, and 114 trainers have been schooled, so that now 750.000 workers are familiar with the main OSH issues.

In the future the BEF wants to be more pro-active, taking up issues like increasing productivity, migrating women and PPP. It has good working relations with the trade unions that take part in the tripartite consultations, and set up a crisis management committee with them to deal with upcoming problems. The International Finance Committee of the World Bank supports the desk research on these issues.

-          Mr. Dhal on India/EFI:

Main goal of EFI is to foster competitiveness by promoting harmonious relations with workers. It organises a range of workshops on issues like ‘employee relations’ (ER), for which member firms can obtain an EFI excellence award. Trade Unions now prefer bilateral contacts with the employers, as they consider the government to be too pro-business. EFI also runs an ‘industrial relations’ audit for member organisations. It has developed an App on the Indian Labour Law, and a remuneration survey, and it lobbies in tripartite bodies on health insurance, vocational training and labour legislation. With the help of Tata a training institute on industrial relations has been set up.

EFI is the main partner for social issues in the Council of Indian Employers, with the All-Indian Organisation of Employers and the Standing Conference of Public Enterprise.

-          Mr. Srinageshwar on India/AIOE:

The AIOE organises once a year the Labour Conference in which all employers discuss social policy. It also has a seat in the Wage Advisory Board, and lobbies on social security and pension issues, including the level of the reference interest for pension insurance. Another lobbying issue relates to the ease of doing business. The Labour Law is very rigid and out dated, and the Indian States do not apply it in an identical way. AIOE is promoting simplified codes that cover matters which now are regulated in the labour law. On such issues there is frequent contact with the Trade Unions. Outsourcing/contract labour is forbidden by law, but the Unions are slowly accepting the need for more flexibility. AIOE focuses on social policy issues; the economic issues are left to the Federation of Indian Chambers FICCI and its many State and local chambers.

-          Mr. Shakya on Nepal:

The FNCCI organises 97 trade associations, 799 big enterprises, 20 bi-national chambers, and many SMEs, through the 115 member chambers. It has councils and committees for the main topics labour, industrial policy, commodities, agriculture, energy and forestry, and ad-hoc work groups are dealing with specific issues. FNCCI has a place in bodies that advise the government on planning, industrial policy etc.

A problem is the volatility of politics, which causes immobility of the civil servants. Big lobby issues are the minimum wage, the state budget, the new Constitution, the effects of last year’s earthquake and the recent blockade of the frontier with India. In the latter case the Trade Unions saw that the economy was grinding to a halt, but did not dare to instruct their members to end the blockade. Some lobby results have been the easing of VAT declarations, and better import procedures. An important source of income is the certification of origin system that FNCCI runs. The Confederation of Nepalese Industry is a parallel business organisation.

-          Mr. Siddiqi on Pakistan:

His organisation has 500 members in the 4 provinces. It has gained visibility by developing a list of obstacles to business, including poor energy supply, corruption, women and youth unemployment, weak SME policy, and low productivity. These items were listed in the Pakistan National Business Agenda 2013 that was established with the support of the trade associations. Also its comments on the 2013 election programmes of the different political parties received a lot of publicity. The EFP is independent from the Chambers that focus on economic issues. It recently developed the ‘7 Cs’ plan which acts as a business agenda. The lobby items it contains relate to the investment climate, the ‘Doing Business’ agenda of the World Bank, empowerment of women and youth, better governance and the Labour law simplification. In the latter case the situation is comparable to India, as this law dates from colonial times. The EFP proposed a simplification in 2010, but only now the government has made a reference to this issue in its recent budget draft. Relations with the Unions are good: a common position is prepared on many issues before meeting the government. In a High Court case EFP has been able to push the government into adopting ILO conventions at the federal instead of the provincial level. Together with DECP it is developing a resources and services package for its members. This will be a tool for increasing membership and finances.

-          Mr. Weerasinghe on Sri Lanka:

The EFC is a well organised EO that focuses on social policy, leaving the economic issues to the Chambers. It has 624 direct members and 35 member trade associations. The secretariat takes care of the lobby, as individual firms do not wish to antagonise the government. Migration and reforming the labour law are issues high on the EFC agenda. It also offers services derived from its lobby activities, and other services like support in legal proceedings, to its members. The tripartite meetings, where business sits together with no less than 6 ministries, offer a useful lobby platform. Here issues such as employment, productivity, international competitiveness, and skills are discussed. EFC wants to link wage increases to higher productivity. In addition to lobbying, EFC has taken its own initiatives, e.g. on youth employment, organising a platform where university students meet business. The secretariat is engaged in doing more research as a basis for more effective lobbying en advocacy actions.

  1. 3. Vocational training

Through lack of time this subject was postponed till a future meeting, with apologies to Mr. De Koster.

  1. 4. Regional ‘ambassadors’

Mr. Peiris made a presentation on strengthening the regional representation of the EOs (attached). His suggestion is to nominate regional ‘ambassadors’: e.g. HR directors of firms in the regions, who will promote the EO, spread information on its activities, and acquire new members. This will enhance the representativeness of the EO and provide a broader financial basis. In the discussion on this suggestion it is highlighted that these ambassadors should operate separately from the structural ties that an EO will have with its regional members. They would not have a say in policy making, but can be motivated to do the job by providing them with more information about the EO and its policies. In some cases retired businessmen may play this role.

  1. 5. Preparing the next meeting

Lack of time did not allow us to have a round table on current developments in the EOs.

Mr. Dasun, staff member of EFC, that hosts the SAFE website www.safe.org.lk, presented the updated site. Position papers of the SAFE member EOs can be uploaded; each EO can obtain a password and instructions on how to operate with him. A window on comments and questions is available: all members are automatically informed by e-mail. Mr. Dasun can be consulted on dasunk@empfed.lk. The members congratulated the EFC for this well-functioning website, which should become a cornerstone for our future activities.

The meeting felt that the SAFE forum should move from a platform for exchanging information to a forum that allows its members to develop positions on important issues that have been selected together, and prepared by one of the member organisations.

The participants decided that the following five issues, with for each issue an EO that takes the lead in preparing a discussion document on it, will be retained for future discussion:

  1. Vocational skills & competence (EFC and BEF prepare)
  2. Contract labour & migration (EFI and AIOE prepare)
  3. Labour Law for the 21st century (EFP prepares)
  4. Wage & productivity (FNCCI prepares)
  5. Women empowerment (ACCI prepares)

Several EOs volunteered for hosting the next SAFE meeting; Mr. Shakya’s offer to host this meeting in Kathmandu was welcomed, and accepted by all.

The meeting dates will be Thursday 23 and Friday 24 February 2017.

The representatives of the EFC that so kindly hosted the 5th meeting; the ILO and ILO/ITC secretaries who did an excellent job of arranging flight schedules, visa, the venue and meeting room, etc.; and Messrs. Chorus and De Koster were greatly thanked for their contributions and support. The meeting was closed with a common lunch at the Hotel.

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