BUSAN, Republic of Korea (ILO News) - Citing the need to create some 250 million new jobs in the region over the next decade, the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) opened its 14th Asian Regional Meeting here today by calling for new initiatives aimed at eliminating what he called the "decent work deficit".
"The world needs to devote as much political energy and focus to eliminating the decent work deficit as it has to reducing budget deficits," ILO Director-General Juan Somavia told delegates from countries in Asia and the Pacific, and Arab states, adding that in elections, opinion polls and conferences "people across Asia are saying 'give me a fair chance at a decent job.'"
Calling on delegates to consider adopting a decade for decent work in Asia, Mr. Somavia said: "In this region of immense diversity, tackling the challenge of realizing decent work represents a powerful force for convergence and unity."
The meeting heard statements by H.E. President Roh Moo-hyun of the Republic of Korea, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka of Sri Lanka and Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit of Jordan.
In an opening address, President Roh called the ILO's decision to put the highest priority on making decent work a reality for all and to select realizing decent work in Asia as the theme for the regional meeting "very timely and appropriate. I sincerely hope that the meeting will be able to come up with action plans to realize decent work in Asia".
Noting that Sri Lanka was one of the first countries to establish a national plan of action on decent work, Prime Minister Wickremanayaka said "decent work is not only a human and social necessity - it is an economic necessity" and added that such plans could be linked to national budgets and development programmes.
Jordanian Prime Minister Bakhit confirmed Jordan's "commitment to the goal engendered in the Decent Work Agenda and the Millennium Development Goals that require action by all concerned, if states are to fulfil their promise and realize the objectives they have committed to by 2015".
The ILO regional meeting will be discussing a range of issues including competitiveness, productivity and decent jobs, creating work for young people, managing labour migration, and extending social protection in the informal economy.
"New initiatives around decent work objectives are also possible," Mr. Somavia said, including an Asian Employment and Decent Work Forum, a systematic exchange of experiences to bring social protection to workers in the informal economy, a regular tripartite analysis of security and flexibility issues, implementing a regional framework for migration and coherent policies for small enterprise development.
"Asia needs to create around 250 million more jobs between now and 2015 just to meet the growth of the labour force," Mr. Somavia said.
He highlighted the gender dimension of the challenge, saying: "Women account for two-thirds of the working poor in Asia and they are much more vulnerable than men to the loss of jobs and livelihoods in a crisis situation."
Mr. Somavia said that while upgrading the informal economy and improving agricultural productivity were important, societies in the region needed to find "better policies to connect economic growth, productivity, competitiveness, jobs and poverty reduction. We have to make it easier and more attractive for businesses and workers to progress towards being part of the mainstream of wealth creation," he said. "We need a strong enabling environment for investment."
Mr. Somavia said the ILO's tripartite social partners could play an important role through "promoting the organization of informal businesses and workers - their voice can play a decisive role in devising the best strategies for micro and small enterprise development, sustainable livelihoods and access to social protection."
He said that "the decent work agenda has resounded around the globe", noting the recent endorsement of the UN's Economic and Social Council in July which had "sent a strong message for the UN system to come together to promote quality employment and singled out decent work country programmes as part of a 'more coherent and pragmatic United Nations approach to development.'"
He said the current ILO meeting would provide "a unique opportunity to build a framework for solutions that will allow the region to advance in all these priorities. 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, hope, dignity and growth that truly delivers decent work for a decent life."
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