As intra-regional migration in South Asia (SA) becomes very strong in recent years, economists and experts on Sunday urged the nations to formulate bilateral, multilateral and mutual legislations to safeguard the workers' interests.
Workers in the region tend to migrate to the informal sector with low wages, which puts them at higher risks of discrimination, they said, adding that national security concerns and conflicts between natives and non-natives pose challenges to cross-border labour migration.
There is a large scale of undocumented regional migration happening, which is not reflected in official numbers, they said, criticising that the policymakers do not pay enough attention to the issue of labour market migration.
They suggested ensuring availability of data, skill upgrading and accreditation, and proper understanding of the market needs to harness the opportunity of cross-border migration.
The observations and recommendations came at a session titled 'Cross-border Labour Market Management' of the two-day 14th South Asia Economic Summit that concluded in Dhaka on the day.
Madhu Raman Acharya, former foreign secretary of Nepal, chaired the parallel session of the summit, organized by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).
Dikshya Singh, programme coordinator at South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment, Nepal, Syed Kaleem Imam, former federal secretary of Pakistan, and Praveen Jha, professor at the Centre for Economics Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, among others, spoke at the session.
Speaking at the event, Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha, research director at SANEM, said poverty is the primary cause of unsafe migration in the region.
Due to the gender norms in South Asian countries, women face constraints when entering the job market and reaching the upper segments of the employment sector. Therefore, she said, upskilling should get a distinct focus across these countries.
A well-harmonised accreditation of skills of the workers in this region would allow them to find job opportunities in cross-border labour markets, she said.
She added that there should be a common agreement between South Asian countries regarding what should be the minimum standard for worker benefits, such as wages and working conditions.
Harmonised labour laws across South Asian countries can also ensure better protection for workers, she noted.
Raghav Chakravarthy, senior research associate of JustJobs Network, India, said intra-regional migration becomes very strong in recent years as South Asian countries have many similarities in terms of labour market with large population and large number of working age people.
Although the South Asian countries are experiencing enhanced industrialisation, this growth is mainly driven by one or two major sectors, speakers said, adding human trafficking is also a major concern which needs to be addressed.
They recommended conducting a study to examine the structure of the labour market in South Asia.
This study should include a skill demand analysis and explore the opportunities for cross-border migration, they said and recommended following the experience and models of ASEAN and other regional cooperation models regarding labour migration.