Opening Address to ILO/APSDEP Regional Meeting on Skills Development and Globalization

by Ms Mitsuko Horiuchi, Regional Director, ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Chiba | 23 February 1999

Mr. Hiroshi Yamashita, Managing Director of OVTA,
Mr. Moriaki Nagae, Director, Overseas Cooperation Division, Ministry of Labour,
Directors and Officials from Labour Ministries and Vocational Training Institutions,
Distinguished Resource Persons,

I am very happy to welcome you to this APSDEP meeting on Skill Development and Globalization. I should like, first of all, to express our gratitude to the Government of Japan for its uninterrupted financial support of APSDEP's programmes. We are especially fortunate to have so many distinguished and well-informed speakers on the programme. Thanks to the constructive input that I know we can expect from our government, employer and worker panellists, the meeting should contribute to the formulation of significant policy guidelines.

Last weekend, I had the privilege of addressing a socio-economic summit in Nepal in which the Prime Minister, parliamentarians, business and trade-union leaders and several former heads of State and Government from other Asian countries took part. It was striking that not economic but social concerns dominated debate. And chief among these was human resource development.

... Globalization is a fact of life. But merely sharing a single marketplace does not mean that the values and principles which govern our economic life are also shared. That is why, in his address to the World Economic Forum, in Switzerland earlier this month, the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, invited businessmen and women to initiate a global compact to "give a human face to the global market". I shall return to that compact, and the ILO's part in it, later. The Asian financial crisis has alerted us, all too starkly, to the harmful effects of volatile global markets. A crisis that seems to have begun with political turmoil in Indonesia and bad economic news in Japan went on to shatter regional economies in East and South-East Asia that had become dependent on that economy. The result was sharp downturns in GDP and massive increases in unemployment.

The figures alone are staggering. For example, Thailand saw its growth rate in GDP fall in one year from 6.4 per cent to -0.4; in Indonesia unemployment rose over the same period from nearly 5 to 15 per cent. But human tragedy cannot be told in figures, and when it strikes, it strikes hardest at those least prepared to cope.

When world leaders assembled at the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen four years ago, they understood that by increasing the dependency of one country on another, by stepping up competition and quickening the pace of technological change, globalization had put new demands on workers. Plainly, new policies had to be formulated to ensure that their skills matched the requirements of a dynamic labour market.

As the World Summit acknowledged, the ILO is at the front line in the battle for more and better jobs. To help win that battle it is committed to improving skill-development systems. For if the jobless workers of our region are to benefit from the opportunities borne by more open economies, they must have ways of acquiring new skills and adapting existing ones.

The Asian crisis teaches us that there is no "low road" to national prosperity built on meagre wages and scant social protection. Competitiveness in the global economy passes on the "high road" of increased labour productivity. And to build that road, we need flexible and responsive training systems.

When Mr Annan proposed a compact for "responsible globalization", he called specifically for support of the "core values" defined in the ILO's recent Declaration on fundamental principles and rights of work. The Declaration, which the International Labour Conference adopted in June of last year, lays a duty on all member States to embrace and promote the fundamental rights embodied in the ILO's "core" Conventions on freedom of association, forced labour, child labour and discrimination at work. Interestingly, that duty applies whether or not a State has ratified those Conventions.

I should like, now, to consider how closely related the principles and rights of the Declaration are to the ILO's vision of human resource development.

Participants at last month's Asian Regional Consultation on follow-up to the Social Summit agreed that our goal of human resource development could only be attained through full involvement of government, employers and workers. And that requires freedom of association.

If parents' skills can be upgraded to enable them to re-enter the job market, their children will no longer have to go to work.

To be effective, training cannot be limited to a particular social group. It is important that women and especially vulnerable members of society benefit from training on a non-discriminatory basis.

Under the ILO Convention on vocational guidance and training for human resource development Governments must take steps to meet the training needs of young persons and adults throughout their lives in all sectors of the economy and at every level of skill and responsibility.

But governments alone cannot meet all of the training needs imposed by a global economy. The private sector also has an increasingly important role to play.

Workers too must play an active, if not a proactive, role in determining and fulfilling their training needs. Lifelong employability implies constant upgrading of skills and adapting to the changing world of work.

I would like to conclude by asking each of you how you, as members of governments and representatives of employers and workers, propose to meet the challenge of training for the new millennium.