16th Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting

Noriyuki Suzuki: “Violations of workers’ rights remain a challenge in the Asia- Pacific region”

The General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation - Asia Pacific (ITUC-AP), Noriyuki Suzuki, discusses the decent work challenges the unions face in his region Fair migration and the role of unions in the implementation of the ILO’s Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy in Asia Pacific are particular priorities for him.

News | 07 December 2016
Noriyuki Suzuki, General Secretary of the ITUC-Asia/Pacific
ACTRAV INFO: Building a future of Decent Work in Asia and the Pacific is one of the major challenges in your region. What role can the trade unions play to achieve this challenge in Asia and the Pacific?

Noriyuki Suzuki:
The specific role of trade unions is to strengthen labour market institutions to overcome the prevailing inequalities in the region.

Globalisation has contributed to fast economic growth in the region and globally. In the past decades, the developing Asia recorded an annual growth rate of 7%, PPP based GDP per capita grew between1990 and2010 from $1,602 to $4,982 (PPP 2005), and nearly 700 million people step out of poverty (US$1.25 a day). However, the threshold of US$1.25 as poverty line may not be adequate.Looking at the distributive aspect of regional national economies, the picture is quite different from what we had expected from globalisation; inequality is pervasive in Asia and the Pacific.

Wages have not been catching up with productivity growth and expenditure on social security remains low. There are major deficits with respect to taxation and fiscal structures. Employment structures have been drastically changing affecting full-time and fixed term employment. What’s more, the labour share has been constantly declining, while the GINI coefficient is constantly on the rise.

This trend can only be reversed by establishing a balanced tripartism based on constructive industrial relations. A major challenge here are the trade union rights in the region. According to the ITUC Global Rights Index, the simple average score of the Right Index in our region stands at 4.2, showing systematic violation of rights. Moreover, less than 50% of the population are covered by ILO Conventions 87 and 98. These are the realities. The only way forward is to build up workers’ power’ through mobilising more and more workers as decided at the 3rd ITUC Congress in Berlin. Organising and unity are key to realising decent work in the region.

ACTRAV INFO: One item on the agenda of the 16th Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting is “Fair Migration with a Focus on Recruitment”. What are your expectations regarding this discussion?

Noriyuki Suzuki:
Some months ago, I witnessed in Kathmandu a crowd of young people at the passport centre, and hundreds of people at the immigration desk Lack of decent job opportunities is one of the reasons for such forced migration. Except for a few specific professional categories, most people do not want to be separated from their family.

These people dream to have a higher income, but workers are frequently subject to unequal treatment and opportunities, as well as discriminatory behaviour.

In accordance with ILO Conventions 97 and 143concerning migrant workers, and the General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment which were recently endorsed by the ILO Governing Body, trade unions are playing a pivotal role in protecting and promoting the interests of migrant workers in ensuring that migration policies support development in countries of origin, and uphold the principles of equal opportunity and treatment, as well as full recognition of migrant workers’ rights in destination countries.

ACTRAV INFO: In your view, what role can trade unions play to implement the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy in Asia and the Pacific?

Noriyuki Suzuki:
Multinational Corporations (MNCs) are drivers of globalisation and play a dominant role in the world economy. There are over 63,000 multinational corporations in the world with 700,000 affiliates, and they represent two thirds of global trade and 80% of global investment. They provide employment to more than 80 million workers. When supply chains are taken into account, that number becomes much higher.

They are undoubtedly engines for national and global economic growth; however, we witness, throughout supply chains, frequent violations of trade union rights, denial of freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, and in some cases, extremely bad occupational health and safety (OSH) standards, which have led to tragedies like the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh.

The ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy is an important tripartite agreement in terms of wages, employment policy, OSH, and the promotion of social dialogue and fundamental rights at work - in compliance with relevant ILO Conventions. We will continue to stress the importance of companies ‘compliance with the Declaration though our ongoing supply chain campaigns, and publicise cases of violations within our regional and national industrial relations systems.