Decent work and social justice – the APRM must bring a change in mindset

By Tomoko Nishimoto, Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

Comment | 01 December 2016
Ms Nishimoto
We all work; it is one of the few experiences shared by all humanity. But it is a mistake to believe that the importance of work lies just in providing material benefits. Work should offer dignity and importance, a chance to make a contribution to society. But, too often, it does not.
In a few days Government ministers, policy makers, employers and workers representatives will meet to debate some of the key issues currently affecting ordinary working people in our region.

The ILO’s Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting (APRM) only takes place every four years. It will bring together more than 45 countries from Asia, the Pacific and the Arab states, offering a rare opportunity for the key actors shaping employment policy and practice to get together and co-ordinate their actions.

They are meeting at a time of great global uncertainty. The old economic dogma, that ‘a rising tide raises all boats’ is now widely discredited. Even in Asia Pacific – where economic growth has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of absolute poverty - it is widely accepted that unguided growth alone has not been enough. Inequality and vulnerable employment remain doggedly persistent in the region and in some places are getting worse.

This should be a concern for us all. The news headlines remind us almost every day of what happens when ordinary people feel electorally and economically disenfranchised, although 97 years ago the ILO’s Constitution put it just as succinctly as any newspaper editor; “poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere”.

I believe the international policy debate is now shifting to reflect this. Inclusivity and sustainability are watchwords for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which UN member states endorsed just over a year ago. What’s more, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) give specific attention to the role of Decent Work; it is the focus of SDG 8 and the principles run through many of the other 16 goals and their targets.

This shift in emphasis, from the quantitative to the qualitative, creates a need for fresh ideas that can shape a growth path that is inclusive and job-rich, rather than fostering inequality, uncertainty, and even fear.

But, to make this shift we must also change our mindsets and our definition of progress. We must position growth as a driver of social justice, not as an end in itself.

The future we get will be shaped by the policies we adopt and the strategies we implement at meetings such as this."

Tomoko Nishimoto, Assistant Director General and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific
The APRM offers a timely opportunity to do just that.

Our keynote debate will focus on inclusive growth and social justice. It will look at how we can shape the riptide of globalization – rather than be shaped by it – so that it delivers the equality and social justice we need.

Plenary debates will look at the trends and challenges we face and discuss the policies needed to create decent jobs and foster equity. They will also highlight the crucial role of social dialogue; it is no exaggeration to say that unless we embed social dialogue in our political and social cultures none of our goals will be achievable.

Another session will be devoted to skills and training. This is vital. Skills open doors to brighter futures, in particular for young people and groups who are often marginalized in development – women, indigenous peoples, those with disabilities. Skills and training allow new technology to create jobs. They form foundations which employers can use to create innovative, successful businesses.

Delegates will have the chance to discuss migration, in particular the importance of a fair, correctly regulated recruitment process.

There will also be a special session on the role of multinational enterprises (MNCs) and their interaction with social policies in the region, in the context of the ILO’s Tripartite Declaration of Principles on MNEs.

We will also review the results of the Asia Pacific Decent Work Decade (2006-15), through which the ILO member States in this region committed to promoting decent work for all their people. Our analysis shows that good progress was made, but that the Decade should be regarded as a foundation, not a conclusion of this process.

In particular more needs to be done to promote internationally-recognized labour standards, stronger labour market institutions, fair labour migration, social protection and gender equality. We need to work harder on the transition from informal to formal employment, and on the effects of climate change.

So the APRM must act as a call for action, leading to solid policies.

Ultimately, whether Asia Pacific finds a future that is inclusive and defined by decent work will be a political decision. The future we get will be shaped by the policies we adopt and the strategies we implement at meetings such as this.