Trade Unions in Southern Asia


According to Countryaah, Afghanistan is a country located in Southern Asia. The trade union movement in Afghanistan is weak and exists mainly in the cities. The unions for teachers and journalists have organized some activities. On paper, the Central Afghan Federation of Trade Unions (AAFTU) also exists, but the organization is rarely visible. War and civil war and political unrest have shattered previous union activities.

AAFTU is registered with the authorities and strives to maintain a good relationship with the government. A major problem, however, is the lack of offices. The organization also finds it difficult to collect any membership fees.



The country’s only registered central trade union organization: All Afghan Federation of Trade Unions (AAFTU) and Central Council of Afghan Trade Unions (CCATU). AAFTU of the organizations belongs to the World Trade Union ITUC.


Bangladesh is one of 8 countries in South Asia. The trade union movement in Bangladesh is fragmented, but there are strong unions in the clothing and textile industry. In this sector, wages are put into practice by the government because employers never accept higher wage levels than the minimum wage levels decided by the government. For many years, various unions in the clothing and textile industry have gathered for large protests with demands for higher minimum wages.

Several of the major fabric manufacturers are state-owned – and it is in the state-owned factories that the trade union movement has its strongest base. In the clothing industry, the picture is more fragmented. In some industries the degree of organization is high, but in most factories there are no trade unions at all.

In total, only three percent of the workforce is unionized, a proportion that is comparable to Pakistan but is clearly below other countries in the area such as India, Nepal or Sri Lanka.

In total, there are about 25 central trade unions in Bangladesh. Most are linked to one of the country’s political parties. The three dominant parties – Awami League, Bangladesh National Party and Jatiya Party – which all held government power at some point have a particularly strong influence over the trade union movement. Only a small group of trade unions, including some unions in the textile area, are non-partisan.

On April 24, 2013, the clothing factory Rana Plaza collapsed and 1138 workers were killed. This was one of the worst industrial accidents in world history. After the disaster, anger has grown among textile and clothing workers. The growing protests have, among other things, led to an increase in the minimum wage and better controls of the factories. But many requirements have not yet been met. One issue that has engaged the global union IndustriAll is that relatives of dead factory workers should receive financial compensation.

One requirement has been that all clothing companies that manufactured at the Rana Plaza factory should give up 0.2 percent of the profits they made in Bangladesh to support the victims of the disaster. However, several large global clothing companies have refused to contribute financially to the support fund.

In 2015, 42 people were charged with causing the accident at Rana Plaza. Among other things, the previous factory owner was accused of ignoring warnings that there were cracks in the unstable building. The prosecution is historic, never before has anyone been prosecuted for accidents in the country’s textile and clothing industry.

In the wake of the accident at Rana Plaza, dissatisfied workers have taken part in several strikes. This in turn has led to an increase in the minimum wage. The protests have also accelerated a new global framework agreement between the global union IndustriAll and H&M. In addition to Bangladesh, the agreement also covers Cambodia, Myanmar and Turkey.



The following organizations are members of the world trade union ITUC : Bangladesh Free Trade Union Congress (BFTUC), Bangladesh Jatyatabadi Sramik Dal (BJSD), Bangladesh Labor Federation (BLF), Bangladesh Mukto Sramik Federation (BMSF), Bangladesh Sanjukta Sramik Federation (BSSF) and Jatio League (JSL). These organizations report the following membership numbers: BFTUC: 85,000, BJSD: 180,000, BLF: 102,000, BMSF: 204,000, BSSF: 155,000 and JSL: 150,000. In addition, there are about 20 additional central organizations.


The information on the total number of trade union organizations varies, depending on which organizations are to be counted. The sum of the membership numbers that the trade unions themselves report is approximately 30 million. In total, the degree of union organization among employees in India is estimated at around three percent. However, these figures are uncertain and are often adjusted both upwards and downwards. The biggest city of India is Delhi.

The trade union movement in India is concentrated on employed workers, although there is also a relatively large trade union movement for workers in the informal economy. There is also a big difference in the degree of union organization in different parts of working life, the degree of organization in industry and among teachers is high.

The Indian trade union movement is strongly divided along party political lines and sometimes also along religious lines. One trend is that several trade unions have lost members, despite the fact that the number of people with employment is increasing. One of the explanations is that the proportion with precarious employment has increased, especially temporary staff, and that most of these are not unionized.

The party politicization of the trade union movement has led to a local split. In one and the same workplace, there are often many competing unions. Industries with upwards of 20 unions are not uncommon. The highest number observed so far is an Indian food company with 64 registered unions! The union split has seriously counteracted the interests of the employees. The responsibility must be placed on the party political elites. Each party today considers itself in need of its own trade union branch. The formation of new parties is usually followed by new unions and party splits are followed by trade union splits. But there are also some unions that do not belong to any of India’s major central organizations or that only belong to a central organization at the state level. An example of an independence,

A special trade union movement is the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), which only organizes women in the informal sector. The organization has gradually grown in strength and today has over 1.9 million members, half of whom are in the state of Gujarat, where the organization’s headquarters are also located. SEWA is today considered one of the national trade union movements and is a member of the International Trade Union Confederation (IFS). A newly formed trade union is the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI). A stated goal for NTUI is to be able to unite workers regardless of party political affiliation, therefore they have also clearly marked their political independence. So far, however, NTUI has few members.

Trade unions are required to be registered by the authorities, but national statistics are deficient and data are currently lacking from several Länder. At the company level, the trade union must be approved by the employer. When this has happened, the payment of the membership fee is usually made by deducting it directly from the salary (check-off system). The deducted fees are then paid by the employer to the local union. If the employer has approved the local trade union, it is possible to conclude local collective agreements between the trade union organization and the employer, but it is also common with local trade unions without a collective agreement having been concluded.

The Indian trade union movement has a long history. Before India’s independence in 1947, India’s trade union movements took an active part in the struggle against the English. This has come to characterize the trade unions, which have emerged in parallel with the political parties. In addition to agriculture, clothing and textile production is the most important industry in the country. It accounts for 14 percent of industrial production, for 16 percent of the country’s exports and four percent of the country’s GDP. In total, clothing and textile production employs 35 million people. Several Swedish companies use suppliers in India, including H&M, Lindex and Indiska. However, several studies show that the degree of trade union organization is low at these supplier factories.

For a long time after independence in 1947, the Congress Party was ruling in India. The Congress Party could long live on its status through members such as Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi himself had a trade union background, which led to trade union rights being given a strong foothold in the Indian constitution at an early stage.

But in the 1990’s, the dominance of the Congress Party was broken in favor of the Hindu nationalist party BJP (Bharatija Janata Party). In the 2004 election, the Congress Party regained power. It was a great victory for the party’s Italian-born leader Sonia Gandhi. After 10 years in power, the parliamentary elections in May 2014 were again a victory for the Hindu nationalist party BJP. Narenda Modi was appointed new Prime Minister. A new election was held in the spring of 2019, even then BJP won, which meant that Modi could retain power.

Critics see Modi as an extremism responsible for violence against Muslims in the state of Gujarat in 2002. The position of power of Hindu nationalism has also affected the union landscape. The country’s largest trade union organization today is BMS, a Hindu nationalist trade union that is close to the BJP.



The largest trade union central organizations are in order:

  • BMS (Bhartiya Majdor Sangh), reports that it has 8.3 million members.
  • INTUC (Indian National Trade Union Congress), reports 6.8 million members.
  • HMS (Hind Majdoor Sabha), reports 5.7 million members.
  • CITU (Center of Indian Trade Unions), reports 3 million members.
  • AITUC (All India Trade Union Congress), reports 0.9 million members.

In addition to these, there are a number of unions at the national or state level that do not belong to any central union organization, including the large Indian Teachers’ Union, the All India Primary Teachers Federation (AIPTF).

INTUC, HMS and SEWA belong to the World Trade Union ITUC.

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