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The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF South Asia regional office), recently organised an online seminar, “Unlocking the Region’s Potential: Labour Mobility in South Asia”. This event how labour mobility can play an important role for the South Asian Economy and its issues.

Waqar Rizvi, a socio-political analyst from Afghanistan, moderated this online seminar. The panelists of the online seminar were Dr. Asim Jamal (General Manager and Managing Director at Sanofi, Pakistan), Bhawani Rana (first female President of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce & Industry – FNCCI, Nepal) and Wansapriya Gunaseel (Co-Founder and Managing Director at Build-Tech Consultant, Sri Lanka).

Waqar Rizvi started the online seminar by asking one of the panelists about labour mobility in South Asia. He asked Bhawani Rana, “From your experience, could you please share your thoughts about why labour mobility is important?”

“I think labour mobility is really very important, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Bhawani Rana. She also believes that labourers should be given more opportunity so that they do not sit idle or work for other regional countries. “If we could restrain our labourers back to our own country and have mobility within South Asia, that’ll be much better for the home country and the labourers also.”

Discussing about restraining labourers to their own region, Waqar Rizvi wanted to know from Asim Jamal if he believes that it is important to restrain labourers in their own region.

“If we look at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) region, we can see it is home to more than 20 per cent of the world’s population. So that’s a strong statement to make,” Asim Jamal said. He mentioned that most of the labourers of this region are of the youth population and they are very passionate about moving between countries. In his experience, he has seen labourers from other countries working in various different countries, which were in the same region.

Coming to the topic of regional based youth workers, Waqar Rizvi asked Wansapriya Gunaseel, “Why should the youth workers remain in their own region?”

“Since we have a common culture within the region, we can easily train our workers and build them up properly as a workforce”, said Wansapriya Gunaseel. He also believes that workers should remain in their own region, which would be beneficial to the South Asian economy in using them as a proper workforce.

“At this point, is it good to say that the ground is good for women to be mobile within South Asia or do you think the challenges for women are quite a lot more than the men?” Waqar Rizvi asked Bhawani Rana.

“Especially after 1990, the mobility within South Asia has increased dramatically. Even when I talk about women mobility, now it can be seen that they are moving out of the region in terms of better wages and opportunity as I mentioned before,” said Bhawani Rana. She also mentioned the challenges women are facing going outside of the region which includes harassment, sexual assault, less wages than men, etc. In this case, she added that the women's mobility should remain within the region and more opportunities created for the benefit of women workers to be mobile within the South Asian region.

“In terms of garment industry, there is competition between the countries in the region. So in regard to labour mobility, why should the countries be supportive towards one another?” Waqar Rizvi asked Wansapriya Gunaseel.

Wansapriya Gunaseel indicated that ‘productivity’ is very important. He added, “Coming from the productivity indicator, there isn’t much of a competition as we thought. There are lots of area to be improved in terms of productivity. If we combine everything, I should say that if we enhance our productivity, it would be of great result for the garment industry. So support within the regional countries is a must for South Asian economy.”

“We have this huge youth force, so we have the motivation. But in terms of literacy rate we don’t have the proper training or the education for that force. How much of a hurdle is that on your opinion?” Waqar Rizvi asked Asim Jamal.

“One of the main goals of SAARC is education for everyone. But that goal is not being fulfilled. So that statement is definitely true,” stated Asim Jamal. He said, “Yes, we do have a workforce which is young, passionate, enterprising but it is raw. Therefore, you have to polish their skills through education, training programmes, etc. To train our workforce, we don’t need to get out of this region as it has immense resources. So I agree with that statement. There is a solution available and it’s under our noses but it’s not being practiced, unfortunately!”

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