Opening Address to the 82nd ICFTU-APRO Regional Executive Board Meeting

by Mr Gek-Boo Ng, Regional Director of ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Singapore | 14 September 2006

Mr Rajasekaran, President of ICFTU-APRO,
Mr Suzuki, General Secretary of ICFTU-APRO,
Distinguished leaders of Workers’ Organizations,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is truly a privilege and pleasure for me to speak at the 82ndRegional Executive Board Meeting. At the outset I should like to convey to you the warm greetings of the Director-General Mr Juan Somavia, and his best wishes for the success of the meeting.

I am also delighted to have this opportunity to meet again with a number of Asian trade union leaders after the Asian Regional Meeting in Busan which was concluded two weeks back. The Conclusions of the Fourteenth Asian Regional Meeting, attended by the representatives of the governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations, refer to the importance of promoting regional cooperation initiatives, priorities for national actions, priorities for ILO Action and the launching of Asian Decent Work Decade. The emphasis of the Conclusions of the meeting is closely related to the agenda and work programme of ICFTU-APRO. Your meeting beginning today, therefore, is of particular significance for realizing decent work in Asia and the Pacific in the years to come.

Let me begin by highlighting some of our challenges. We all know that Asia occupies a premier position in the global economy. The output growth and rise in labour productivity in this region were most rapid in the world. The region has led the world effectively reducing poverty on a per capita basis. We also took note of the fact that Asian people achieved this remarkable progress amidst a series of political turmoil, national calamities, the 1997 financial crisis and the health epidemic of SARs and avian flu. We all should take pride of this achievement under a rather difficult environment.

But we should also be fully aware of our challenges which are equally familiar to all of us. Asia is still home to three quarters of the world’s poor. Some 1 million Asian workers are killed annually by work related accidents and diseases. Despite progress over the last decade, Asia-Pacific region has the largest number of child workers aged 5 - 14 years in the work – some 122 million – about 64 per cent of working children worldwide. The ratification of the ILO core labour standards in our region is relatively slow in comparison with other regions. As mentioned by Mr Suzuki at the Parallel Session of Regional and International Organizations with IOE and ICFTU that Decent Work deficits were staggering, and worsening in countries where women and young workers in particular experienced downward pressures on wages, long working hours and precarious employment.

The dynamic economic picture in our region has not been matched by our employment performance. Indeed, under employment characterised by low productivity and income is a common feature in many Asian countries. Without creating more and better jobs, we shall not be able to integrate disadvantaged groups of young people and women into the labour market. In this context we have taken note of the conclusions of the APRO Youth Committee in their parallel sessions –the millennium generation- decent jobs for young people, we at the ILO consider this an important area for our future collaboration. Even when people have jobs today, their level of insecurity and uncertainty has increased. As mentioned by Ms H. Yacob, Chairperson of the Workers’ Group at the Fourteenth Asian Regional Meeting, a major issue of labour market governance was that employment security have been eroded by drastic changes in the labour market and an upsurge in non-traditional forms of employment, resulting in a rising number of work poor. Asian countries must find an effective balance between flexibility, stability and security, conditioned by respect for rights and negotiated solutions in a dynamic labour market environment.

The challenge we are facing on migration is obvious. Given the demographic dynamic s of the countries in the region, labour migration will be a constant feature. Yet it is growing at twice the rate of growth of labour force in sending countries, and is increasingly intra-regional. Women from the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka make up between 60 and 80 per cent of all migrants, As many as one out of every four migrant workers may be in an irregular status. How do we improve management of labour migration in order to benefit both sending and receiving countries? What are the measures we need to introduce for improving protection of migrant workers?

Last but not least, limited social protection is one of the greatest decent work deficits in the region. How do we extend social protection in the region characterized with significant proportion of workers in the informal economy, changing pattern of work, labour migration and health hazards, including HIV/AIDS?

These are the decent work challenges to governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations and the civil society at large. We must work together to overcome various types of decent work deficits. In dealing with these challenges, the principles and rights at work should be fully respected, and social dialogue is the most effective way of achieving national consensus on the best policy combination for a country. As mentioned by the Director-General of the ILO at the opening ceremony of the Fourteenth Asian Regional Meeting, there was an urgent need to build trust and social dialogue along with sound institutions of representation and negotiation in order to build cohesive, stable societies.

Mr Chairperson, distinguished delegates, we in the ILO see the significant potential for working closely together with ICFTU-APRO to deal with the challenges ahead and to realize decent work in the region. Take the work programme of ICFTU-APRO as an example for illustration. Your work programme, or calendar of events, indicates naturally many issues of common interest to ICFTU-APRO and the ILO. Let me first mention a few, such as labour law reform; tsunami skill development; migrant labour; youth employment; and promoting gender equality. We have been working together with you in sharing our experience and participating in your seminars and workshops. At this point I would like to assure you all of the support of the ILO in particular its Asia Pacific office in Bangkok as well as the sub regional and country offices. I am confident that this collaboration will be further strengthened by our common desire to realize decent work in the region.

This meeting of yours will be a milestone in making decent work in Asia , in improving lives of women and men who are working, striving and dreaming for one thing above all decent work and for a decent life.

Many of you have been with the national and international trade union movement for promoting social justice and improving working and living conditions. You have helped shine the spotlight on the fundamental economic, political and social reality in Asia today. Growth is not delivering enough decent jobs …if growth does not deliver decent work, it will deliver inequality, it will deliver instability, and it will deliver unrest as the ILO constitution reminds us ….you cannot have peace without social justice.

You are the leaders and the collective voice of the Asian workers and you should take great pride in the fact that your message is getting through…growth with equality … a fair chance for a decent job.

Let me conclude by referring to Mr Somavia’s remark at the opening session of the Fourteenth Asian Regional Meeting and I quote:

“I am beginning to see an emerging global movement that looks at Globalisation through a decent work ethic- and finds it wanting. It already has a slogan: Decent work for a decent life.

We now have before us a tremendous opportunity.

The energy, ideas and global policy leadership of Asia can set us on our way to making good on the key demand of people and families for security…for hope…for dignity …for growth that truly delivers decent work for a decent life.

Thank you.