Opening Remarks to the 58th Session of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific

by Mr Yasuyuki Nodera, Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Bangkok | 22 May 2002

Honourable Ministers and Delegates,

Mr Kim Hak-Su, ESCAP Executive Secretary,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for the welcome opportunity to speak with you briefly about the work of the International Labour Organization, and the pressing needs that our constituents have identified in this region. These are not easy times for Asia and the Pacific. The key themes of this 58th Session of ESCAP – sustainable social development amidst rapid globalization, and reducing poverty – are central to the ILO’s work. Our Decent Work Agenda aims at achieving these objectives, recognizing that decent and productive employment is the most effective means of tackling poverty.

Globalization is accelerating and its effects are intensifying. The divide between winners and losers is widening. Despite economic progress in recent years, Asia is still home to two-thirds of the world’s poor. They work desperately hard to eke out a meagre income. While globalization, and the rising trade levels that fuel it, has helped lift many people out of poverty, we also see that it can widen gaps between nations, and within nations. The ILO’s World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalization is bringing together leaders and thinkers from all corners of the globe to address these questions. A key issue is – how do we shape globalization so that the poor – who are most in need of its benefits – are not excluded.

September 11 and its after effects provide a clear illustration of how a failed State can provide space in which terrorism can take root and grow. The human suffering that has occurred, both within Afghanistan over the many years of conflict, and outside its borders, cannot be measured. It is also difficult to measure the economic costs of September 11, although we know that they were huge.

In our region, these effects were added to the legacy of the Asian financial crisis, and the global economic slowdown. As we look to the future, we know that we face many and varied challenges that are linked with globalization and with change in the patterns of trade and development. For example, in China, the transition to a market economy and the accompanying downsizing of state-owned enterprises has already produced millions of lay-offs, and more are expected. Many are looking for jobs in the informal sector, with lower working conditions and little or no social protection. In much of our region, particularly South Asia, poverty alleviation is a major challenge.

In August last year, the ILO’s 13th Asian Regional Meeting brought together the ILO’s government, employer and worker constituents from around Asia and the Pacific. This four-yearly gathering focuses on the Office’s work in the region, and future directions. The constituents endorsed the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda – and urged the region’s member States to draw up national plans of action for decent work. They also called for employment generation, as the principal means to reduce poverty. Other areas addressed include helping member States take part in the global economy to achieve sustainable growth, eliminating child labour, equality between women and men, the impact of information and communication technology, the needs of migrant workers, freedom of association and social dialogue, occupational safety and health, and the great need for social protection in our region.

All of these efforts are part of our Decent Work Agenda. Decent Work means making sure that all women and men have access to opportunities for decent work- in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Less formally, decent jobs mean that people can afford to meet their basic needs, and those of their families. They can build up some kind of provision against illness and old age, and send their children to school, not to work. Life becomes something more than a bare struggle for survival.

Decent work is about people and their lives. Decent work means making sure that we have sustainable development that makes a real difference to people’s lives. The true measure of our success with development has to be a human one. We have to measure the gains for ordinary people and families. The ILO is dedicated to working with the countries of this region to achieve these shared goals.

Further details on all of these areas of work are available from the ILO at any time –through the area offices that cover your countries, and their close liaison with your Ministries of Labour. Or if you prefer, please contact the Regional Office directly.

Thank you.