Opening Remarks to the Meeting of Asian Labour Ministers

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

Statement | Geneva | 10 June 2002

Mr. Ambassador (Government of Thailand)
ILO Director-General Mr. Juan Somavia,
Honourable Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for this welcome opportunity to speak with you briefly about our work in Asia and the Pacific. I would like to place on record my thanks to the Government of Thailand mission, who have served as coordinators for the Asian group over the past year.

Last year’s Thirteenth Asian Regional Meeting was in fact my first as Regional Director although I had represented the Japanese government in its delegations previously. The Meeting clearly endorsed the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda. The ILO was called upon to assist our constituents in the region to formulate, implement and monitor National Plans of Action for Decent Work. We are working with those guidelines firmly in mind. They have shaped our work in the Philippines as we have moved ahead with the development of the first Decent Work Country Programme in our region. We have made available to you here, copies of that Programme. This process is well underway in several other countries as well. China, where our Memorandum of Understanding has assisted the process is well on its way to implement such a programme. Bangladesh is the next country where a Decent Work Country Programme is being developed. Work is also underway in Mongolia and Indonesia, while in India and other countries of South Asia, consultations are taking place. New Zealand, I am pleased to report, is developing its National Plan of Action on Decent Work.

Our constituents highlighted job-creation and human resources development as central, social protection as the biggest deficit, and the need to strengthen rights and voice at work as priorities in the region.

We have also been urged to focus on improving the understanding of the extent and the nature of child labour. The Director-General’s Global Report, A future without child labour, is a vital step forward. Prepared as part of the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration, it is due to be discussed at the Conference on Wednesday, 12 June, the first International Day for the Elimination of Child Labour. There is now an unprecedented degree of awareness of child labour, and an unprecedented recognition of the importance of addressing it. There may have been some small decline in overall numbers, although our experts rightly caution that we cannot make direct comparisons between this new data and earlier sets. But the bad news is that there are many more children in the worst forms of child labour than we had previously thought. Their needs are urgent, and we will work closely with those countries where it is the utmost priority.

Globalization was another key theme of the Asian Regional Meeting. It is accelerating and its effects are intensifying. Although it has brought great benefits – it has also created, as pointed out by the Chairperson, winners and losers. How do we shape globalization so that the poor – who are most in need of its benefits – are not excluded? We face many and varied challenges that are linked with globalization and with changes in forms of trade and development. For example, in China, the transition to a market economy and the accompanying downsizing of state-owned enterprises has already produced millions of lay-offs. Its entry into the WTO has placed new challenges. Many people are looking for jobs in the informal sector, where there are often lower working conditions and little or no social protection. And, in much of our region, particularly South Asia, poverty alleviation is still a major challenge. Extremes of poverty pose further challenges. September 11 and its after effects provide a clear illustration of how a failed State can provide space in which terrorism can take root and grow. The human suffering that has occurred, both within Afghanistan over the many years of conflict, and outside its borders, cannot be measured. It is also difficult to measure the economic costs of September 11, although we know that they were huge. In our region, these effects were added to the legacy of the Asian financial crisis, and the global economic slowdown. We are indeed pleased to welcome the Afghanistan delegation to our midst after a lapse of several years. We also have with us and welcome the observer delegation from East Timor, that gained its independence only recently and which we expect to become a member State soon. We expect our work in these two countries will intensify in the future.

Mitigating the effects of this downturn, and addressing the challenges posed by globalization, are urgent priorities. We are working with our constituents, with other international organizations and institutions and with civil society to ensure that member States can take part in the global economy and achieve sustainable growth. We have signed a unique Memorandum of Understanding with the Asian Development Bank, to cooperate in poverty reduction and social protection efforts across the region. This is intended to ensure that addressing social concerns are a part of development financing. The ILO has also worked closely with countries where poverty reduction strategies are being developed with the World Bank. Cooperation with UN and regional bodies to promote regional integration has been strengthened.

Changing patterns of migration are among globalization’s most visible effects. We are addressing the issues surrounding migration and the needs of migrant workers. A recent seminar in Thailand is just one example of progress in this area. More work will follow as we become more involved in the preparatory process for the general discussion on this subject that will take place at the 2004 International Labour Conference.

We continue to focus on freedom of association and social dialogue, on occupational safety and health, on HIV-AIDS prevention at the workplace, and the great need for social security in our region. We are addressing the pressing needs of particular groups. A recent regional meeting and associated preparatory activities focused attention on the seriousness of the youth employment situation in Asia and the Pacific. Gender equality is a key aim that cuts across all our efforts in the region.

Ladies and gentlemen,

All of these efforts are part of our Decent Work Agenda, led by the Decent Work Team that we have set up in the region. Decent work calls for an integrated agenda, which should be a part of the development planning processes.

Decent work is about people and their lives. The true measure of our success with development has to be a human one. We have to measure the gains for ordinary people and families. We look forward to continuing to work with you to achieve that goal.

Thank you.