Opening address to the first joint meeting of the ASEAN Confederation of Employers (ACE) and the ASEAN Trade Union Council (ATUC), Bangkok, Thailand, 8 March 2016

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

Statement | Bangkok, Thailand | 08 March 2016
Ms Susan Gregson, Assistant Deputy Minister for Asia-Pacific, Government of Canada
Mr Philip Calvert, Ambassador to Thailand, Embassy of Cananda
Mr Cedric Bagtas, Deputy General Secretary, ASEAN Trade Union Council
Mr Van Sou Ieng, President of the ASEAN Confederation of Employers
Brothers, Sisters, ladies and gentlemen,

Let us not underestimate the importance of this gathering. This is not one of these ordinary meetings. Today, together, we are making history. I am sure you share my views that being called a pioneer or a founder can give one a strong sense of pride. Today you are these leaders who have taken a courageous first step together. This is the first ever official joint meeting of the leaders of our regional workers’ and employers’ organizations. I am excited to see these two key players coming together under the framework of a bipartite discussion to address issues around labour migration, which is very important to our region.

The issues we will be addressing in the meeting are very significant: ASEAN is the seventh largest economy in the world. The region has enjoyed remarkable economic growth in recent decades. Despite this, it has also witnessed rising inequality and the persistence of poor quality jobs. Approximately 60% of workers are in vulnerable employment, while 92 million workers earn too little to escape poverty. By anyone’s standard, this is not acceptable.

As the economies in the ASEAN grow in size and complexity, so do labour migration flows within and from the region. In too many situations it is migrant workers who are unprotected and vulnerable to exploitation. On many instances, once migrant workers cross international borders, their basic rights may be restricted and they may face a range of social injustices. For example, recent ILO and World Bank surveys on migration cost have indicated that the fees paid by migrant workers are a heavy burden and amount to three or more times their monthly salary. Many migrants are concentrated in sectors with inadequate labour legislation and enforcement. Female domestic workers in private households and male migrants working in the fishing industry, agriculture and construction are among the least protected.

This is a situation far from the “World We Want” expressed by millions of people who took part in the global dialogue on the post-2015 development agenda. While recognizing the progress made in the last 15 years within the framework of the Millennium Development Goals, known as the MDGs, as the agenda for the next 15 years, people in the world community called for shared prosperity, equal opportunities, social justice and inclusiveness among others. The calls culminated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development along with a set of bold 17 Sustainable Development Goals – the SDGs. The 2030 Agenda and the 17 SDGs were adopted by 193 Member States of the United Nations in its Special Session of the General Assembly in September last year. The Heads of States and world leaders, including those from all ASEAN member countries were there and pledged their commitment that “no one would be left behind”. In the context of our work today, this means leaving no workers, especially vulnerable migrant workers behind. We need to endeavour to reach the furthest behind first.

The 2030 Agenda and the SDGs provide us with a set of a supremely ambitious and transformative vision and a new opportunity for change.

The Goals are to be achieved by 2030. Though 15 years may seem like a long time, from the lessons we learned from the MDGs era and considering the ever deepening level of challenges ahead of us, 15 years is not a long time for such ambitious goals. We need to start with actions today. We, as part of the international and regional community of the world of work, have a responsibility to make those words and goals a reality, in partnership with many others. Indeed SDG 8 reads “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”. Very relevant for ASEAN. What an explicit call for action for the leaders who gathered today.

Social dialogue is the cornerstone of the work in realizing SDG 8 and other SDGs. Social dialogue is the cornerstone of the ILO work that is required for this journey to realize these Goals. I can think of no stronger endorsement of social dialogue than the Nobel Committee’s decision to award the Peace Prize to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet earlier in 2015. Their achievement demonstrates the significance of social dialogue to maintaining social peace and overcoming, what at the outset may seem like insurmountable challenges. Just like you are today tacking a huge challenge.

ILO has, for many years now, supported the adoption of measures that promote a fair migration system. This means creating instruments of governance which result in a fair sharing of prosperity that migrants themselves help to create.

As the only United Nations agency with a constitutional mandate to protect migrant workers, the ILO has pioneered specific instruments to guide the protection of migrant workers, including Convention 97 on Migration for Employment; Convention No. 143 on Migrant Workers; and the ILO Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration.

To further address the challenges of labour migration in the ASEAN, the ASEAN TRIANGLE Project was launched in 2012, with the generous support from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, of the Government of Canada. In its four years of operation, the project has become a key player at both regional and national level, shaping the migration debate, influencing policies, and supporting actions that have brought direct benefits to migrant workers and their dependents.

The ASEAN TRIANGLE project is an important part of ILO’s work on labour migration. At the upcoming Asia Pacific Regional Meeting, held every 4 years, the management of labour migration will be an important issue discussion.

Ladies and gentlemen, at the beginning, I noted that we are making history. I believe the committed leaders like you would not be satisfied if we are making history of “just meeting today”. I believe you would want to make this is a start of something extremely meaningful continuing in the coming months and years – an inclusive ASEAN starts today aiming at shared prosperity for all. The ASEAN Economic Community was launched at the end of 2015. While it brings with it tremendous opportunity for growth, prosperity, increased connectivity and integration, it is our collective job to call for growth that is inclusive, and prosperity that is shared.

We can achieve growth that is inclusive and prosperity that is shared only through the active engagement of the employers’ and workers’ organizations alongside the Governments of the ASEAN Member States. This milestone year represents a true opportunity for ACE and ATUC to put forward their common vision for the protection of migrant workers for the ASEAN region. ASEAN is moving forward with its policy framework, and your two organizations face tremendous expectation to do the same.

I therefore call upon you to work on consulting with your members, developing your key messages, and identifying policy recommendations that ensure that labour migration is fair and beneficial to all – to the migrant workers, to the employers, and to the governments involved.

This bipartite platform is a unique structure that can be used by your organizations to collaborate, identify common policy positions, and to take these forward to the ASEAN governments. Together, your voices and policy messages will be stronger and louder.

ILO is a willing partner to assist you on this journey.
To bring these opening remarks to a close, it is my hope that through this First Joint Dialogue, ACE and ATUC will identify concrete actions to work together, to improve the protection of migrant workers, and to honour the key principle of the SDGs: :Leave no one behind”, by focusing the most vulnerable.

We look forward to strategizing with you how we can evoke a paradigm shift in the ASEAN and enable the region to realize the ambitious goals of the ASEAN Community and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

As we are approaching the end of the first phase of the ASEAN TRIANGLE Project, I take this opportunity to warmly thank the Canadian Government for supporting the project in building ASEAN’s political commitment to improve migration policies and processes for its workers, especially men and women migrant workers. It is our hope that we continue this close and fruitful collaboration in 2016 and beyond.

I look forward to continuing this discussion with you and wish the meeting every success.

Last, but not the least, today we celebrate the International Women’s Day. The theme of this year is “Pledge to Parity”. I do hope you all renew your commitment to gender equality and do everything possible within your leadership role to contribute to gender parity.

Thank you.