Opening Address to the Mongolian National Labour Conference

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

Statement | Ulaan Baatar | 04 May 1999

His Excellency, the Prime Minister,
The Honourable Minster for Health and Social Welfare,
Distinguished Members of Parliament and Government,
Representatives of the Employers' and Workers' Organizations,

It is a very great honour for me to address this important meeting and be with you here today. It is also the realization of a dream of mine ever since I was a child to visit your country.

Mongolia, we were told, is a land of fearless heroes and boundless adventure. And in Mongolia Genghis Khan and his grandson, Kublai Khan, put together the biggest land empire the world has ever known.

Centuries later, you embarked on another grand adventure: the peaceful move from a centrally-planned economy to one built on free-market principles. And to succeed, you have established a stable democracy, nourished by the intelligence and exceptional literacy of your people.

You have chosen an auspicious time for this meeting, coinciding as it does with the 80th anniversary of the International Labour Organization. Though 80 years is but a speck next to the centuries of Mongolian history, they make our Organization one of the oldest in the United Nations family.

As you know, the ILO was created at the end of a long and cruel world war in the hope that social justice for all would ensure lasting peace in the world. Though the dream of lasting peace has yet to be achieved, the principles on which the ILO was founded are more vital than ever. And they are growing more and more widely accepted as a key to sustainable development.

Much of the work that rekindled commitment to social justice was sparked by our new Director-General, Mr Juan Somavia, who gave the leadership needed for the 1995 World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen.

As visitors to the handsome website of your permanent mission to the United Nations in New York can see, you have undertaken a series of initiatives as part of the follow-up to the major UN summits and conferences of the 1990s.

The world leaders - your prime minister among them - who met at the Social Summit in 1995 saw employment at the core of the struggle against poverty and social disintegration. They also expressly acknowledged the ILO's pre-eminent role in securing what Mr Somavia has described as "decent work for women and men everywhere ... in every society, and at all levels of development".

Our task is to put a human face on globalization.

And our work falls into four broad areas, which I should like to highlight.

The first of these gave rise to a unique Declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work, which the ILO adopted last June. The Declaration obliges all member States to respect and promote the principles and rights embodied in the ILO's "core" Conventions - on freedom of association, forced labour, child labour and discrimination.

Your country has already ratified four of those Conventions, and I have every hope -strengthened by the human-rights safeguards in your Constitution of 1992 - that ratification of the other three will soon follow.

The Declaration on fundamental principles and rights also directs the ILO to assist its members in ratifying those Conventions, enacting appropriate legislation, setting up the administrative machinery to apply them and so on.

So the Declaration, unlike other international instruments, seeks to give States the means with which to serve their citizens better. It is designed not to punish countries for difficulties they may have, but to help them overcome those difficulties.

The Mongolian Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour, which we are proud to launch with you this week, is an example of how our Organization and your Government work together to promote these fundamental rights.

A second broad area in which we are active is giving women and men greater access to decent jobs and income. Perhaps no other single activity could be more important for a landlocked country whose highest priority is the alleviation of poverty when so many of its citizens get by on less than 17 United States dollars a month.

As Mr Somavia observed in a recent interview for Newsweek magazine, "employment is the first step out of poverty".

Employment promotion can help people find work of several kinds: from self-employment to jobs in small and medium-sized enterprises. It may involve reconstruction and employment-intensive investment and will often entail skills-development. The ILO also organizes special training courses in rural settings so that country people are not forced to move to cities.

An essential part of our work concerns the development of useful labour-market information systems. Open labour markets require the players to know what is available, what is needed and how to supply it. In a global economy, whose pace is quickened every day by information technology, employers and workers need to adapt to changing demands quickly. So labour-market information and training are more important now than ever before.

Mongolia's ratification of the ILO's Employment Policy Convention is a sign of its commitment to promoting employment. We all know that it is not possible "overnight" to deliver employment to everyone in a country whose move to a market-driven economy is so recent. But we also know that by sharing our respective insights and working together we can contribute to effective and sustainable long-term solutions.

This brings me to the third important area of our work: social protection. Every society needs to provide for those of its members who are less fortunate and more vulnerable. Every society, too, has a duty to ensure that no one should have to run excessive risks or face unreasonable or unnecessary dangers in their work. Every society must provide for the sick, the disabled and older people in need of special care. Naturally, the ILO offers policy advice on all aspects of social security, as it does on occupational safety and health.

In more than 100 countries, the per capita income is lower than it was 15 years ago. A growing majority of the world's population today has no access to social services, social protection, social dialogue, or the fundamental workers' rights I have mentioned. Since economic growth alone cannot reverse the pattern of increasing poverty and social exclusion, the ILO launched, early last year, a programme known as STEP, which stands for "Strategies and Tools against social Exclusion and Poverty".

In collaboration with the Government and Mongolian employers' and workers' organizations and other agencies in the United Nations system, the ILO has prepared specific proposals under the STEP programme, and it remains only to present them to the donor community, mobilize the necessary resources and implement them.

The fourth broad area into which our work falls comes under what we call tripartism and social dialogue. As represented by the three gears on the ILO logo, our Organization believes that the fight for greater social justice and the elimination of poverty should be waged by the representatives of employers and workers enjoying equal status with governments. The practice of social dialogue brings the parties together in free discussion and permits them to take and accept democratic decisions.

As a result, one of our main concerns in Mongolia is to help strengthen the capacity of the three social partners.

Labour administration in your country is being conducted by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. As you are well aware, the task is a demanding one. To spearhead the development of a modern labour administration requires considerable technical and financial resources.

Labour administrations are engines of social change. Their work embraces labour inspection, industrial relations, training and research into labour issues. It also involves linking up with other agencies and institutions concerned with labour policy and law.

I am pleased to offer the ILO's services to help your Government develop such a system of labour administration. To begin, our experts could help work out a blueprint based on your country's special needs. To see it into action, Mongolia could then draw on the ILO's technical assistance in the form of policy advice, staff training and guidance in drafting laws. The strengthening of Mongolia's labour administration is a major contribution we would like to make to your country's social and economic progress.

We are no less eager to help develop the capacity of your employers' and workers' organizations. They are of crucial importance in an economy that is growing more global every day. Far from lessening the role of the State, today's global economies extend it by requiring the State to work more closely with the private sector and representatives of civil society.

The still youthful Mongolian Employers' Association has taken great strides over the past several years. Particularly in the field of industrial relations, we want to help it become stronger and more effective.

The challenges facing workers' organizations today are compounded by the competitive worldwide economy. As a result, workers must be ready to adapt to changing demands with new skills and a greater openness to change. So it is very important for the Confederation of Mongolian Trade Unions to participate actively with the social partners in the search for solutions to those challenges.

The ILO is proud to offer the Confederation training and other programmes to build its capacity.

Mr Prime Minister and distinguished guests:

As we prepare to enter a new millennium let us draw on the lessons of the past and pool our energies and skills to make the world a better place to live in.

The challenges you face are many: globalization, mastering the market economy, alleviating poverty, improving social protection systems, creating and training for new jobs, giving women the chance to claim their due place in society, safeguarding democratic institutions are but a few.

However daunting, they are challenges you do not face alone. The ILO and its fellow members of the United Nations system, are with you.

I wish you every success in these great tasks and wish to close, if I may, by sharing with you my personal satisfaction in being in a country that has preserved the defining characteristic of nomadic civilization: harmony with nature.