Opening Remarks to The Fifty-Seventh Session of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

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

Statement | Bangkok | 23 April 2001

Mr. Chairman,
Mr. Executive Secretary,
Distinguished Delegates

It is both an honour and a privilege to address this distinguished gathering, and to present to this 57th Session of the Commission a brief overview of the concerns and the work of the International Labour Organization’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

The year 2001 presents a multitude of challenges. Jobless growth continues to be a cause for concern; predictions of an economic slowdown are therefore even more alarming. The Asian financial crisis, in particular its effects on ordinary working men and women, and the efforts towards recovery, are major concerns being addressed by the ILO in the region. The theme of this session, the balanced development of urban and rural areas, is strongly tied to employment issues, which are at the core of the ILO’s mandate.

The Asian financial crisis was a painful affirmation of the importance of people-centred development – and of the indivisibility of economic and social policy. The ILO has noted a rising interest in many of the fundamental principles and rights that our Organization believes are the pillars of sound and sustainable development. The commitment of the ILO’s constituents – governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations - to these rights is clearly demonstrated by the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-up, adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1998. These rights can be divided into four principal areas: freedom of association and the effective right to collective bargaining; the abolition of all forms of forced or compulsory labour; the elimination of child labour; and of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. These are fundamental human rights. Further evidence of this commitment comes from the 25 per cent increase in ratifications of these fundamental Conventions since this campaign was launched. In our region, projects targeting these fundamental principles and rights are underway in Nepal, Cambodia, Indonesia and Bangladesh. The elimination of child labour is the subject of two of these fundamental Conventions - including the newest, Convention 182 on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour. This Convention has been ratified at an unprecedented rate. There are 10 ratifications in Asia and the Pacific, most recently from Sri Lanka, and the Republic of Korea. The ILO’s technical cooperation on child labour is spearheaded by the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC). One of IPEC’s longest-standing and most constructive partnerships is with our host country, Thailand.

These fundamental Conventions are the cornerstone upon which the ILO’s primary goal rests. That goal is Decent Work. That means ensuring that all women and men have access to opportunities for decent work, in conditions of freedom, security, equity and human dignity. Despite the extraordinary diversity of our vast Asia Pacific region, Decent Work holds true across every country, every community. A decent job makes it possible for people to meet their families’ basic needs.

Over the coming biennium, the ILO will intensify its efforts to operationalize its Decent Work Agenda. We have already made significant progress. Our Programme and Budget has been restructured in order to pursue the four contributing Strategic Objectives:

  • Promoting and realizing fundamental principles and rights at work;
  • Creating greater opportunities for women and men to secure decent employment and income;
  • Enhancing the coverage and effectiveness of social protection for all; and
  • Strenthening tripartism and social dialogue.

Gender equality is a further, cross-cutting issue, of key relevance to all our work. Decent Work will be at the heart of discussion at the ILO’s 13th Asian Regional Meeting, to be held in August this year, involving most of ESCAP’s member States. Consultation and cooperation with our constituents, and with civil society, with our Offices in the field and at Headquarters, and with other international organizations and partners will play a key part in the achievement of our goals. We are working with all UN agencies as well as with the Bretton Woods Institutions, the Asian Development Bank, and of course with our bilateral partners.

Led by ESCAP, thematic working groups are allowing UN agencies and organizations to share knowledge and experiences. The ILO is a member of a number, and leads the Thematic Working Group on Follow-up to the Social Summit. I am also pleased to note a significant development in our partnership with the Asian Development Bank. Although the ILO and the ADB have worked together over a long period under the broad umbrella of poverty alleviation, a new commitment by the ADB to promote core labour standards as part of its lending policies in selected pilot countries, Bangladesh, Nepal, the Philippines and Thailand, is an important advance. Other achievements in the context of standards and fundamental principles and rights at work in the region include the launch of two new projects in countries in transition, in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and in Viet Nam, focusing on a review of labour legislation, its applicability and implementation.

The ILO is assisting in employment policy development in Pakistan and Thailand; with employment generation targeting the informal sector in Bangladesh, and with decent work in the informal sector and rural industrialization in India. In Nepal, a labour force survey generated the country’s first labour force statistics. Human resource development is a crucial item on the employment agenda. The ILO’s Japan-funded Multi-bi Programme continues to provide assistance to a number of countries. An important realignment in the wake of the Asian financial crisis has intensified its focus on employment services, labour market information and training for displaced workers, industrial relations, and the rights and empowerment of women workers. And in East Timor, the ILO initiated a presence, which the Regional Office is seeking to reinforce in order to address a range of needs.

Other efforts focus on making maximum use of employment opportunities. The labour-based rural infrastructure programme that began in Cambodia nearly a decade ago has created millions of workdays in direct wage employment. In the Philippines, an Executive Order received presidential approval, making labour-based equipment-supported technology the country’s first choice. The ILO also recognizes the vitally important part that enterprise plays in employment creation. Enterprise development efforts include an extensive Start and Improve Your Business project in Viet Nam, working with some 100 partner organizations across 14 provinces. In China, also, two projects on urban and small enterprise reform are developing guidelines for SME development.

Social protection plays a vital part in achieving the ILO’s goal of Decent Work. Efforts in this region include significant occupational safety and health activities as well as technical assistance in the field of social security in China. In Pakistan, the ILO is implementing a project on HIV/AIDS education; a six-year HIV/AIDS prevention project is beginning in India; and in Malaysia, the ILO helped implement a UNDP-funded social protection reform project; and again in Tonga, helped set up a national provident fund scheme. The ILO’s Strategies and Tools against Exclusion and Poverty programme is operating in a number of countries in the region, including Mongolia.

Social dialogue means more participation in decision making, a wider range of opinions, and a deeper store of wisdom. Workers’ and employers’ activities have taken place in several of the countries of the region. In Indonesia, a project on trade union participation is helping workers take a greater role in disbursement, use and repayment of small loans, provided by the World Bank, for improving the lives of those affected by the financial crisis or who live in poverty.

Once again, Mr. Chairman, I thank you for the opportunity to draw this brief sketch of the ILO’s work and concerns. It is our belief that decent and productive work is the key to solving problems of social exclusion and poverty. It offers security, meaningful participation and self esteem for all those involved in the world of work. It offers a social floor for the global economy – a foundation for sustainable development.