Opening Address to the ASIST-Asia Pacific Review Workshop

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

Statement | Bangkok | 26 October 1999

Mr Kirasak Chancharaswat, Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare of Thailand

Distinguished Government Representatives and representatives of Development Banks and Donor Agencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very happy to welcome you here to review the ILO’s contributions to development, infrastructure and employment in Asia and the Pacific under our “ASIST” programme.

The Advisory Support, Information Services and Training that ASIST-AP provides seek to optimize sustainable employment in the construction and infrastructure sectors throughout our region.

Our purpose during these two days we shall spend together is to assess how successfully the programme has meshed with your various country programmes to further the development, infrastructure and employment needs you face.

The Asian financial crisis has made those needs more acute. So we must take particular pains to evaluate our work so as to make it still more effective in the days, months and years ahead.

As many of you know, my home country – Japan – is one where the link between development, infrastructure and employment was historically very strong. In hard times, Japan had turned to labour-based infrastructure programmes (or public works programmes as they are known in Japan) for quick-fix short-term solutions that created jobs and created infrastructure. But the Japanese tend to regard such programmes as temporary measures in the ambit of economic recovery programmes like those seen in the 50s and early 60s.

But labour-based technology is much more than a temporary fix. Wherever unemployment challenges are great and the cost of labour relatively low, labour-based work methods should be the technology of choice.

With limited resources, the ILO’s ASIST-AP programme has succeeded quickly and effectively in getting that message across. Its efforts have, I am pleased to report, been especially successful in those countries that paid the harshest tribute to the financial crisis.

The hope I wish to bring you today is one of still greater opportunities for development and employment through wider and better use of labour-based technology.

Ladies and gentlemen,

ILO programmes have made it possible to create up to 1.2 million jobs ( 200 working-days per year) in Indonesia and 200,000 jobs in the Philippines.

In Cambodia, a much smaller country, some 6,000 workers have found work in ILO programmes spanning four different provinces. The Asian Development Bank now has a similar rural infrastructure programme in six other provinces of Cambodia.

I am happy to report that the design of the ADB’s programme in Cambodia was based on that of its ILO forerunner. The ILO is working closely with the ADB, supplying technical training and support for small contractors. Our ties with the World Bank in Indonesia and Thailand are also very strong.

As a recent study into the effects of our work in Cambodia has shown, its socio-economic benefits are striking in the form of reduced transport costs, increased income opportunities and wider access to basic services.

The pursuit of these programmes requires changes in technical and contractual regulatory systems to permit the use of labour-based technology when it offers the best option, technically and economically. Careful planning and ASIST support are also desirable.

This is where another ILO project, known as the Integrated Rural Accessibility Planning (IRAP) Project, comes in.

IRAP is about improved accessibility to services to make for a better quality of life and greater opportunities for employment and income. The Project makes it possible to launch rural development programmes planned at the local level with community participation.

In the Lao PDR this approach is being integrated into planning processes at the national level. I recently had the pleasure of seeing first hand the attention development agencies are giving there to local-level priorities before designing support programmes.

Ladies and gentlemen,

During the economic boom years, the urge to rely on equipment-based methods -- even when they were more costly -- was understandable. Today, however, we have a chance to rethink our work methods and pay heed to the social issues that the financial crisis has brought to the fore.

Only one year ago, many Governments were taking drastic measures to reduce spending on public services. Investment in infrastructure, whether governmental or private, dried up and projects came to a halt. Thailand’s housing market, for example, contracted by some 50.3% in 1998, leaving over 265,000 units unoccupied. In the office sector, occupancy rates fell to between 60 and 65 per cent. Mean capital values plummeted and office rentals declined by 20 to 30 per cent.

Widespread poverty in South Asia, which escaped the harshest effects of the crisis, has made the greatest challenge there jobs for all.

The ILO’s assistance focusses on the potential for local economic development. To this end, it is committed to intensive capacity-building and training of local planners, administrators and technicians, among others.

The past few years have seen large-scale Social Investment and Social Safety Net programmes in countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. These bring tens of thousands of new jobs in the infrastructure sectors.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The ILO’s Employment Intensive Investment Programme is helping create jobs in more than 24 countries around the world and reflects our Organization’s abiding concern to promote "decent work" for women and men. ASIST-AP’s record describes better than I could the meaning of “decent work” in the infrastructure sector, where it involves:

Increasing the involvement of local contractors in technical operations, and providing assistance to keep bidding procedures simple and transparent;

Promoting good working practices, respecting minimum age, paying fair wages, and strengthening the dialogue between workers and employers;

Ensuring equal access to construction work for women and men; and

Extending the duration of contracts to make them more attractive.

The choice of technologies is a significant one. What the ILO seeks is a balance between labour and technology, not the abandonment of equipment en bloc.

In its brief two-year history, the demand for ASIST-Asia Pacific collaboration has grown steadily. So too has awareness of the exceptional benefits labour-friendly methods bring.

This workshop will, I hope, give you the opportunity to enlighten each other with accounts of those benefits and how they can be maximized.

I wish you all a very profitable meeting and an enjoyable stay in Bangkok.