South Asia: Governments must protect livelihoods from COVID-19

07 April 2020 08:24

BWI-affiliated trade unions, along with national trade union centres, have petitioned their governments to seek financial relief on behalf of workers affected by COVID-19 lockdowns in several South Asian countries. They said that the crisis has dire effects on the livelihood of millions, including daily wage earners and migrant workers.  

The region is extremely vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 due to its weak health infrastructure and large population. With the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, and the lack of testing in the region, many experts feared that the actual spread of the virus could be worse.  To contain the pandemic, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have implemented varying degrees of lockdowns. 

Several countries have already announced immediate financial relief packages to millions of workers in the region to mitigate the negative economic impact of COVID-19. But BWI affiliates  are particularly concerned for construction and migrant workers, and those working in the informal economy. They are alarmed over the economic impact and uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 lockdowns in the region.

R C Khuntia, BWI- Asia Pacific Vice-Chair, urged affiliates in the region to be vigilant in protecting the rights and welfare of workers during the global health crisis. He said that trade unions should closely monitor how governments implement measures to secure the health, safety and livelihood of workers in the region.

Here are the countries' initiatives in the region:  


The country will provide financial relief amounting to INR 1,700 billion (USD 24.28 billion) to construction and migrant workers, farmers, women and self-help groups. The relief will also cover low-income workers in workplaces employing a maximum of 100 workers, earning up to INR 15,000 or USD  214 monthly. 

The relief is in the form of direct cash transfers and food security that covers both urban and rural poor in the country. Additionally, 21,486 shelter homes have been established to cater to around 700,000 migrant workers across states. Meanwhile, many state governments have pledged to provide financial assistance to registered construction workers through their  state construction workers welfare boards.


The Pakistani government launched a PKR 1,200 billion (USD 7.5 billion) COVID-19 spending package to support export-oriented, medium and small enterprises, medical workers, as well as augment the budget devoted for the building of more shelter homes.  A total of PKR 200 billion (USD 1.25 billion) was also earmarked from the spending package to cover daily-wage earners. The government also slashed fuel prices and ensured that enough provisions for food supplies are put in place.

Aside from these, on 3 April, the government announced that it would provide incentives to investors and has committed to fully support the construction industry, starting with the proposal to establish a Construction Industry Development Board. The Prime Minister stated that industries connected to construction shall continue to function even during the lockdown due to  its huge potential for job generation. 


The government of Nepal has recently unveiled a NPR 100 Million (USD 812,000) central relief fund to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The Prime Minister and Central Ministers have reportedly all decided to contribute one month of their salaries to this fund.

Part of the fund will used to provide food relief to marginalised households. Rebates on house rent tax and utility bills, extension of tax payment deadlines, income security for both organised and unorganised sectors and a one-month government contribution to the people’s social security fund will also be provided to the public. 


A COVID-19 spending package of BDT 50 billion (USD 5.8 billion) was recently announced by the government that will focus on export-oriented industries and payment of wages and other allowances to garment workers. The government, however, has yet to respond to the needs of daily-wage workers, including those working in the construction industry.

Sri Lanka

The government of Sri Lanka has announced a moratorium on the repayment of personal loans less than 1 Million LKR (USD 5,27) covering non-executive public and private sector employees for a period three months. Also, the government said that it would provide relief and support to the tourism and apparel industries.