- December 7, 2022
Director General of the ILO
Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific
Minister for Labour, Singapore
It is my pleasure to speak at the opening ceremony of the 17th APRM. And to respond to the DGs report. I represent the workers of the Asia and the Pacific and the Arab regions.
On the outset we thank the IL Office for providing the report. We consider it is an excellent platform, for the deliberations for the next three days.
Let me begin, by placing on record the workers’ group congratulations to the Director General Gilbert Huongbo on his election. I also, take the opportunity, to convey to the former DG, Guy Ryder, best wishes in his new assignment with the United Nations.
Workers’ Group fully supports the call Renewed Social Justice for a Human Centred Recovery.
Since we last met in Bali in 2016, much has happened. Climate change, the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine. These have devastated the lives and livelihood of people in our region. An Oxfam report states 140 million people across the Asia region were plunged into poverty. Because jobs were lost during the pandemic. Twenty new “pandemic billionaires” have been created in Asia in the same time.
We want a share of that prosperity. We have to be serious about the call for a renewed social justice for a human centred recovery.
The workers ask for a new social contract. A contract with Governments and Employers and particularly at the national level. A contract which is based on the availability of decent jobs for all; respect of rights for all; fair wages including minimum wage; adequate and easily available social protection; respect for equality; inclusiveness and no forms of any discrimination.
These are the ILO values. They have been now reinforced by the adoption of the Resolution on A Global Call to Action at the ILC in 2021. And that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient.
The report is thin and weak in terms of any analysis on the devastating effect on unions. Look at the abhorrent situation of workers in Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar , Cambodia, Philippines and Hong Kong. Trade unionists are being jailed and hunted down. There is weak suggestion about building the capacity of workers. There is much talk about people centred recovery. Yet the report lacks any analysis about trade union involvement in and the improvement of collective bargaining processes or fundamental rights. It is very weak in its analysis on efforts to improve legislation and strengthen collective bargaining.
During the crisis the workers and their families were the most affected. Many Governments failed to implement and enforce labour laws. To the contrary Governments imposed laws that actually weakened worker rights. Labour courts failed to address workers predicament in dealing with COVID, mass terminations. Workers were in the forefront to provide care, medical assistance, run supermarkets; at the cost of isolation from their families for long periods, facing dangers of infection and death.
Rights. More than 40 per cent of workers in the two regions live in countries that have not ratified Conventions Nos 87 and 98. Even where ratification has occurred, ILO supervisory bodies have identified several cases in the regions in which serious and persistent problems of the application of freedom of association rights and principles remain.
The COVID has also exposed the importance of OHS. This gave rise to the inclusion of safe and healthy working conditions in the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles and rights at work.
In the Bali Declaration workers group had insisted for the ILO to develop a strategy for the ratification and implementation campaign. We have seen no such strategy.
ITUC Global Rights Index shows that in 2022, that the Arab states continued to be the world’s worst region for workers’ rights. They are beset with conflict, severely trampling fundamental liberties and the rights of workers.
The Asia-Pacific region is the second worst region in the world for workers’ rights. 2022 was marked by the use of extreme police brutality to repress strike actions, notably in Bangladesh and India, where striking workers were killed, and in Pakistan, where violence was used against workers. In Hong Kong the authorities all but silenced trade unions, made independent trade unions illegal. Egregious human rights abuses continued unabated in Myanmar. In the Philippines, trade unionists and workers lived in fear of violent attacks and arbitrary arrests and killings.
Effective labour inspection is important for protection of rights of workers and employers at work places. The pandemic also exposed the lack of proper labour inspection. For example, in India in recent times labour inspection has been weakened in order to promote “ease of business”. Employers have been given free hand with self-inspection. The ILO Committee of Experts have raised serious concerns regarding the self -inspection. In 2019 the ILO had asked the Indian Government to accept a direct contacts mission to report on the implementation of the Labour Inspection Convention in law and practice. The Committee has noted with concern that the Government has refused the mission so far. In the recent times Indian Government has amended the labour laws without any consultations with the unions. These laws are draconian and to the determent of the workers. In some States of India laws have been changed to increase hours of work from 8 to 12 arguing that workers need more money so they can longer hours. This is unacceptable.
We ask the ILO to seriously consider an active campaign for the ratification and effective implementation of the fundamental conventions. We would like it to be reflected in the conclusions.
Child Labour is increasing in the region. The report states that a lot of actions are being taken by Governments. The reality is that child labour has increased. Poverty has increased due to the pandemic which has forced children to work. This region has the highest number of child labour compared to the world. It is now accepted that in no way the SDG on Child Labour can be achieved.
The pandemic has exposed the absence of any effective social protection in the region. No medical support, maternity protection, old age pension, workers superannuation schemes have all been highlighted by the crisis. Workers Group supports the call in the report for universal social protection for all.
Director General, we will work with you to strengthen the work of the Office and its delivery of programmes, policies and accompanying activities. We want the ILO to work with us. We want to build a strong union movement in the region with your assistance. The ILO is as strong as its constituents. A trade union movement that has the ability and the capacity to carry out collective bargaining with employers and engage with Governments on national policies. A new social contract is only possible with all ILO constituents working together.
The Office needs to work with us. This is a serious matter. The trade union movement sometimes feel like the distant cousin particularly when engaging at the national and sub regional IL offices. At the global level, in Geneva and New York, it is not an issue. This has become an increased problem with the implementation of the One UN. More so, now when at national level the ILO works more closely with other UN agencies in delivery as One UN services. We experience this feeling of being outsiders in our engagement on the implementation of the SDGs and implementation of other ILO programmes. This is also widely viewed as the beginning of the demise of tripartism.
Our view is that ILO and other UN staff at national level have not been fully made aware of the concept of tripartism, the ILO supervisory mechanism, the mandate of ILO and how it is in practise at the national level. In particular the position of workers involvement within the ILO system. It is a problem in the management system. Decisions on the One UN and SDGs were thoroughly discussed and determined at the international level. There seem to be not sufficient training given to the UN staff and the constituents at the national level. We see that as a serious issue. Workers’ Group views multilateralism is not working at national level contrary to what is said in the report.
To deliver a Renewed social justice for a human-centred recovery we would like to see a strengthened IL Office in particular, ACTRAV. We need to work together. ACTRAV is the vehicle for the unions to connect with the Office and Office connection with the unions.
We need ILO support to strengthen unions. Organising workers is the most important step building unions. Many governments are bent on destroying unions. Many employers take que from Governments and do not come to table to engage with unions. It has been a battle for unions to survive. We need ILO ACTRAV to actively support workers to exercise their right of freedom of association and to organise. This role cannot be simply left to unions alone.
Collective bargaining is the only way the Renewed call for a human centred recovery can be implemented. The Workers” Group has always raised concerns about the Better Work programme. We cannot have a programme that takes over the role of independent unions in collective bargaining. We have warned that Better Work programme on workplace cooperation should work only where there is independent unions. Paragraph 241 of the report makes a very glowing report of the BW programme. But the reality, for example, in Jordan is that BW is responsible for developing collective agreements that are below minimum wage conditions; wage increase is not based on performance but the longevity of service and keeping to the same employer even if the worker does not agree with it; employers’ continue to confiscate passports to restrict workers to leave and join another factory.
In Bangladesh it is some 10 years now since the Rana Plaza fire where many workers had died. Till today workers do not have freedom to form unions and join unions. BW programme has assisted establish workplace cooperation, denying the establishment of independent unions. In March 2022 the General Secretary of the ITUC said, ‘The Bangladesh Government is warned that if they do not improve by November 2022 then they face an ILO Commission of Enquiry.”
The ILO has given its stamp of approval for this programme. It is high time for an evaluation of BW programme. All ILO programmes should be in compliance with the core labour standards.
The ITUC has recently warned about the rise of right wing, populist governments in the region. They have adopted draconian measures to suppress democracy and destroy unions. Resources should be made to unions instead of these Governments. Often Governments are supported by the ILO while the request for help from the unions are ignored. It is time unions are strengthened as unions.
The recent elections in Australia and New Zealand have elected worker friendly and progressive governments. The Australian Government elected six months ago has implemented increase in minimum wage, passed a Bill to change labour laws to strengthen collective bargaining, introduced laws to allow 10 day leave for victims of domestic violence and announced that it will ratify C.190 on harassment and violence at workplace. The ILO needs to work together with unions to bring about such changes in policies.
Let me remind us that the regional meeting, the APRM is held based on the Constitution of the ILO. It is an opportunity to review the work of the ILO and its effectiveness of the programmes and policies. It provides the constituents an opportunity to challenge, criticise, applaud and make constructive suggestions with the overall aim to improve the delivery of ILO policies and programmes in the region.
It is only once in 4 years the ILO Geneva Office moves down to a region. Otherwise, all is done at the Geneva level in Europe. We see these 4 yearly meetings as important, useful and it is an opportunity for the Office to connect with the people of a region. We insist that efforts be made to strengthen the meeting in order to have greater and real impact in the region. This is the most troubled region regarding worker rights.
The Bali declaration had an important element. It was a road map for the implementation of the 23 recommendations and action points with a set time We had asked the ILO was to prepare and present a mid-term report to the GB. We want to continue that approach for the 17th APRM. The office prepared and reported and allowed the tripartite constituents to discuss, evaluate and make recommendation on the progress of the implementation of the recommendations. At the GB meeting the midterm report outlining the progress was strongly criticised by both the employers and the workers. The ILO mid-term report said that the DWCPs were the vehicles for the delivery and implementation. We have not seen any concrete results in any country in the region. The Office was asked to implement recommendations 14-23. We are disappointed that there no is that there is no specific reports on the outcomes and actions by the Office. The Office should have taken it seriously. The document was unanimously adopted by the tripartite partners.
The Bali Declaration is a living document. The ILO should continue its implementation and regular reporting. We remain very concerned in this regard.
The Workers Group supports the proposals made in the report on action on climate change; equality; non-discrimination; rights of women; protection of migrant workers’ rights and enterprise development.
The WG is ready to work with the ILO and thank the DG for the report.
We wish the meeting great success!