BANGKOK (ILO News)–In an address to the 20th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Labour Ministers’ Meeting Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), highlighted the ASEAN Charter signed late last year as a “fundamental political commitment” to honour “the dignity of work and respond to the legitimate aspirations of people and families for a better life.
Mr. Somavia noted the development success in the region which has “fuelled growth and job creation. Today, the ASEAN consumer market is larger in terms of spending power than India —with half the population. But you have also identified significant challenges and shortcomings.”
Citing the challenges of widespread poverty, rising inequalities, a growing informal economy and skyrocketing food prices in Asia , he supported labour ministers efforts to focus on vulnerable populations.
“The ASEAN of the future depends very much on how you deal with the vulnerable of today— what I would call the Marginalized Majority who are left on the sidelines of globalization’s success,” Mr. Somavia said. “That’s precisely the decent work focus that you have chosen for this meeting”.
Despite large reductions in working poverty, he added, nearly 150 million workers and their families are still living under the $2 per person, per day poverty line.
“At the same time, I see a deep consciousness among leaders in the region for proactive policies to sustain growth with equity”, Mr. Somavia said in his speech on Thursday 8 May, noting that in different stages and in different ways member States were taking action to implement the ILO’s Decent Work agenda. “It is an agenda that transforms through productive job creation, empowers through workers rights, liberates through social protection, and unites through social dialogue. It is a living agenda valid for all stages of life”.
He highlighted five key issues which he described as “critical” for strengthening the social dimension of ASEAN integration and building on joint efforts with countries in the region. These include developing a comprehensive social floor that integrates social investments, education and rights with market opportunities, and “permits people not only to move out of poverty, but also to have a sure footing to further move ahead in life towards middle income status”.
Secondly, strengthening employment and productivity in the rural economy. ”With the food price crisis, it is obvious now that we have not given enough attention to agricultural production and productivity”, he said, reminding the Ministers that these rural employment issues will be on the agenda of the International Labour Conference when it opens on May 28th in Geneva.
Thirdly, he noted the importance of promoting sustainable enterprises, particularly small and medium sized enterprises that drive job creation, allow people to move from the informal to formal economy, expand domestic markets and improve overall competitiveness and productivity.
Describing migration as “one of the most delicate political challenges we face” he welcomed the recent ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers as an important area for continued collaboration.
Mr. Somavia also raised the issue of “green jobs”, noting that sustainable, clean and green development in ASEAN will require major changes in technologies, production and consumption patterns. He said ILO tools could help smooth this transition process, noting that social dialogue and good industrial relations will be critical. Strategies for promoting green jobs in response to climate change are to be discussed at the G8 Ministers of Labour meeting that Mr Somavia will attend in Japan next week.
Mr. Somavia began his speech by expressing profound sadness at the immense human tragedy that has struck Myanmar in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. ”During this difficult time of crisis, I want to reiterate our solidarity with the people of Myanmar and our commitment to the regional and international effort of support,” he said.
The Director-General invited the ASEAN Ministers to join in celebrating the ILO’s 90th anniversary next year, with a series of national summits on “Social Dialogue for Decent Work and a Fair Globalization”.
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