Inaugural Address to the ILO/Japan Technical Consultation on Vocational Training and Employment of People with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific

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

Statement | Bangkok | 14 January 2003

On behalf of the ILO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, it gives megreat pleasure to welcome you to this regional technical consultation onvocational training and employment for people with disabilities.

Fourteen countries are being represented at this meeting, making it the largest ILO meeting in the region to address the employment and training needs ofpeople with disabilities. Representatives of disabled persons’ organizations,trade unions, employers’ groups, and governments along with parliamentarians and other international organizations are participating in what we hope will be fruitful discussions leading to positive outcomes.

We would like to use this opportunity to express our sincere thanks to the Government of Japan for not only providing financial support for this meeting,but also for its ongoing support for the inclusion of people with disabilities in society. Through its efforts, the Decade of Disabled Persons, 1992-2002became a reality, and it is good to see that the Decade has now been officially extended until 2012. This meeting represents the ILO’s initial contribution tothe new Decade, and to the advancement of the Biwako MillenniumFramework of Action towards an Inclusive, Barrier-Free and Rights-Based Society for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific, which wasadopted by governments in Otsu, Japan in October 2002.

We must also recognize the excellent work carried out by the Kingdom of Thailand in its efforts to further opportunities for those with disabilities, not justin Thailand but throughout the region. Cooperation between the governmentsof Japan and Thailand helped forge the creation of the Asia-PacificDevelopment Center on Disability here in Bangkok. This center will serve the region as a training and research facility.

I would also like to express thanks to the Government of the Republic ofIreland for its funding of a programme called ‘Employment of People with Disabilities – the Impact of Legislation’, through the Ireland Aid-ILOPartnership agreement. This project, based at the ILO's Disability Programmeat ILO’s headquarters in Geneva, is adding to our knowledge base onlegislative and policy issues and provides technical assistance for countries inAsia and Africa in improving the effectiveness of existing legislation or developing new laws. A one-day consultation meeting on Friday will provide greater detailon the programme. Further, Ireland Aid contributed to funding the countrystudies the ILO commissioned in 2002.

The ILO has long supported the rights of people with disabilities, and has beena strong advocate for the rights of disabled workers, dating back to 1925. Ithas encouraged the development of workers’ compensation and social security-based programmes for workers who have suffered injuries in their workplaces.

The ILO has also directly advocated for the training and employment needs of disabled persons through Recommendation 99 concerning Vocational Rehabilitation of the Disabled, adopted in 1955, and Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) Convention 159 (1983). This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of this important convention, which callson governments to adopt a vocational rehabilitation policy based on equal opportunity and treatment for disabled workers. Countries that ratify the Convention also pledge to develop programmes and practices to implementsuch a policy based upon a tripartite approach that also includes consultationwith disabled persons. At this point in time, of the 73 countries which have
ratified the Convention, six are located in this region – they are Australia,Japan, Mongolia, the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines and the Republic of Korea. We laud these nations’ governments for their action whilewe encourage all countries in this region to examine and ratify this Convention.

In November 2001, the ILO Governing Body adopted the Code of Practicefor Managing Disability in the Workplace. The Code provides guidance toemployers on how to recruit people with disabilities and maintain employmentfor workers who become disabled, enabling them to benefit from thecontribution which workers with disabilities can make. It also highlights the important roles of governments, employers’, workers’ and disabled persons’ organizations in supporting the implementation of the Code.

Half the world’s population of disabled persons resides in the Asian and Pacific region. They include 238 million people with disabilities of working age. People with disabilities are disproportionately underrepresented in schools and training centres, and without the opportunity of education and training opportunitiesthey face tremendous barriers in securing jobs or starting businesses. Discrimination can come in many forms. Many of you know directly and personally that disabled people face obstacles that are physical, social,attitudinal and policy related. The end result of these barriers and discrimination
is that people with disabilities often face the prospect of poverty and live livesof social and economic exclusion.

  • The rights and needs of disabled persons were recognized and discussedat the ILO Thirteenth Asia Regional Meeting held in August 2001. In the conclusions, the delegates made particular note of that disabled persons must be provided with appropriate training and productive employment.

Recognizing the importance of comprehensive information as a basis for the development of policies and programmes to improve opportunities for persons with disabilities, and the lack of a comprehensive knowledge base at present in this region, the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific commissioned 14 country studies and identified many example of good practice related to the employment and training of disabled workers. We have developed a regionalweb site to disseminate the information generated through these and otherefforts. We are also currently collecting and analyzing data from surveys completed by trade unions and employers’ groups to document the efforts they are making in the area of disability.

In addition, we are providing technical assistance to governments, employers’ associations and workers’ organizations to promote equal opportunity and treatment of disabled workers. We are working with the Finnish government in Cambodia to promote training and employment of disabled persons in theinformal sector - a project that has relevance throughout this region.

Over the coming days you will learn more about these activities and international standards, including Convention 159, the Code of Practice, as well as theIreland Aid project. You will also learn about regional developments, such asthe Biwako Millennium Framework.

Most importantly, however, you will have the opportunity to learn from each other, and share your experiences. You will have the chance to make recommendations for regional activities and to work in country teams to develop action plans that can make a real difference for the training and employment of people with disabilities in your country.

Finally, I would like to stress the importance of the ILO principles as embodied in Convention 159 – people with disabilities have a right to equal opportunityand treatment. This means access to the training and employment opportunities available to all, and the provision of special services and accommodations when they are needed. Our challenge at this meeting will be to explore ways in which we can turn these principles into reality so that people with disabilities haveaccess to decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.

Thank you again for your participation and in anticipation of your efforts andhard work.