BANGKOK (ILO News) – Establishing national plans of action for "Decent Work" across Asia together with guidelines and programmes to prevent or "significantly attenuate" the negative impact of the current global economic downturn were among a wide-ranging set of conclusions emerging today as the International Labour Organization’s Thirteenth Asian Regional Meeting ended in Bangkok.
In a climate of increasing economic uncertainties, representatives of government, employer and worker organizations from across the region called on ILO Director-General Juan Somavia "as a matter of urgency," to consult with the region’s tripartite constituents and draw up guidelines and programmes to guard against the effects of the downturn.
Held once every four years, the regional meeting groups 39 of the ILO’s 175 member States to review past work and set new directions. The meeting was the first of its kind to consider the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda, taking concrete steps towards implementation across the region. The ILO will work with its government, employer and worker constituents to draw up national action plans – which should define national priorities, a timetable for implementation and a set of indicators for regular monitoring and evaluation. Ensuring women and men have opportunities for decent work is the ILO’s primary goal – but it points to an "immense" deficit. It defines this as the absence of sufficient employment opportunities, inadequate social protection, the denial of rights at work and shortcomings in social dialogue.
ILO Director-General Juan Somavia told the meeting that the challenge of creating decent work in Asia went to the heart of the development process itself. "Decent work is a development strategy. It reflects a universal aspiration of women and men everywhere and connects with their hopes to obtain productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity," he said.
In their conclusions, delegates stressed that job creation was the "central element" in the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda, and the principal means to reduce poverty. They urged the ILO to work with constituents to help member States establish development plans and training programmes targeting unemployment. The region needed both decent work – and policy frameworks favourable to economic growth and enterprise development. Raising productivity, increasing the competitiveness of enterprises, and establishing a conducive environment for investment, job creation and improved quality of life were also important.
The meeting noted with concern that limited social protection "is one of the greatest decent work deficits in the region," particularly its widespread absence among workers in informal employment. "Recognizing the high social cost of the Asian crisis of 1997 and relatively low public spending on social protection in the region, the delegates call upon the ILO to support the development of comprehensive, inclusive and sustainable social protection programmes."
Other important conclusions include:
- Identifying multi-skilling, skills training and upgrading as "crucial" to enhancing access to employment and improving productivity and competitiveness in the global economy.
- Promoting policy integration for employment through better cooperation between government agencies and with employer and worker organizations. Giving employment issues higher priority could help produce "forward-looking strategies to avert and mitigate the social repercussions of economic downturns on employment and income in the region."
- Requesting that the ILO develop and facilitate policy measures for migrant workers within the Decent Work framework, and suggesting forums for discussion. Describing migration as "a manifestation of the globalizing world", the meeting noted that it "cannot in most cases be conceived as favouring the sending country alone, but as benefiting also many receiving countries by providing much-needed workers" who, it noted, were often the least protected.
- Noting the significant increase in flexible work arrangements, including casual, subcontract work, fixed term, part-time, temporary and home-based.
- Calling for expansion of the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour to reach more countries in the region; and encouraging particular attention to combating trafficking of children and bonded labour.
- Calling on the ILO to help member States introduce time-bound programmes for gender equality. Delegates noted that in many countries of the region, equality had still not been achieved in terms of employment, education and training, remuneration, social security entitlements, facilities to establish their own enterprises and other aspects of work – and observed that women "still account for a disproportionately large group of the working poor." Gender mainstreaming should be a priority item on the employment agenda.
- Calling on member States to bring their legislation into conformity with the principles of the ILO’s fundamental Conventions, and if they had not done so, to ratify these. Delegates noted the disparity between ratification and implementation of fundamental Conventions, and urged measures to address this.
- Noting the importance of appropriate training and employment opportunities for vulnerable groups. The high level of youth unemployment was "of particular concern".