Opening Address to the ICFTU-APRO/ILO Regional Workshop on: "IFI's Poverty Reduction Programs and Trade Unions: Lessons Learned and Future Action Plan"

by Mr Shinichi Hasegawa, Regional Director of ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Bangkok | 28 June 2005

Mr. Noriyuki Suzuki, Secretary General of ICFTU-APRO,

Mr. Claude Akpokavie, ILO Bureau for Workers' Activities, ,

Ladies and Gentlemen, brothers and sisters.

On behalf of the ILO I would like to welcome you all to . This regional workshop is jointly organized by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions – Asian and Pacific Regional Organisation, and ILO’s Bureau for Workers’ Activities.

As we gather here today half the world’s workers remain trapped in poverty. Despite significant economic growth in the past two decades and a decline in income poverty, is still home to two-thirds of the world’s poor. That means approximately 767 million people are living on less than one dollar a day. Unfortunately, the recent tsunami disaster pushed 1.5 million poor people into deeper poverty.

The majority of these people are the “working poor.” That means people who are – often - engaged in low productivity jobs that don’t bring in enough income to allow them to support themselves and their families. They work very hard and long hours. Often they are in the ‘informal economy’. This exploitative and discriminatory working situation is a major concern.

Work, after all, is more than a source of income. Poverty does not just indicate a shortage of money. There is shortage of opportunities too. This breeds a growing sense of powerlessness and indignity. Empowerment of women is crucial in achieving gender equality. Child labour is a sign of not only present poverty, but also future poverty.

As you would agree, poverty of income and of opportunity hampers sustainable and equitable development. In the conclusions at the end of the ILO’s 2001 Asian Regional Meeting, delegates stressed “the importance of employment generation as being the central element in the Decent Work Agenda and as the principal means to reduce poverty.” Two years later, in 2003, the ILO Director General’s report, “Working Out of Poverty” reminded us of our commitment and the importance of Decent Work in fighting poverty.

We firmly believe that the creation of decent employment opportunities for all women and men is fundamental for achieving the first of the Millennium Development Goals; that is, halving poverty by 2015. In particular job creation for youth must be high on the agenda. These tasks make the work of the ILO highly relevant to the challenges faced by countries today.

Another important MDG is on Youth Employment. It was discussed at the ILC this year, and will also be one of the key topics at the ILO Asian Regional Meeting in , this October.

There is no uniform strategy for tackling poverty. Country-owned poverty reduction strategies to fit into specific situation are therefore crucial.

Today, many low-income countries are following the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper or PRSP approach. The ILO is actively supporting this work in a number of Asian countries.

There are two principal aims. First, to place the Decent Work Agenda at the centre the poverty reduction strategy. Second, to empower the social partners so that they can influence the development of the PRSP’s. Without the involvement of the social partners the effectiveness of the PRSPs can be seriously undermined.

Experiences vary, but in some countries the active participation of the tripartite constituents has produced pro-employment PRSPs. For unions it has been a way to influence policies on poverty reduction. By using collective bargaining, workers have established decent wages and conditions that keep them above the poverty line.

The willingness of Governments to consult is commendable. However, more can still be done to widen stakeholder participation. Your continued commitment is vital.

This workshop takes place at a critical juncture. Many countries are into their second phase of Poverty Reduction Strategy preparation. Let us reflect on our country-level experiences and work together to create a strategy for future action. I believe the chance to consult with representatives of the International Financial Institutions will be particularly valuable in this regard.

The ILO has built up valuable, world-wide experience in strategies for poverty reduction. But we know that while social dialogue plays a valuable role in this, it is a process and not an end in itself. For the process to be truly effective, building up the capacity of stakeholders is important. So, please use this meeting to tell us how we can help you make social dialogue an even more powerful instrument for poverty reduction.

I look forward to hearing your experiences and views. I wish you every success as we work together towards a common goal – “Decent Work for All”.