17th Asia-Pacific regional meeting

ILO Director-General opening statement at the 17th Asia-Pacific regional meeting

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Statement | 06 December 2022
ILO Director-General speaking at the 17th Asia-Pacific regional meeting @ILO
On behalf of the ILO, I am delighted to welcome you to this 17th Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting.

The pandemic has kept us apart for too long. So it is wonderful to see so many old friends and faces as well as new friends and new faces.

Equally, it is heartening to meet new friends, colleagues and allies in our efforts to deliver social justice and decent work. I thank you all for being here today.

I would also like to take a moment to express my deep gratitude to the Government of Singapore for hosting us this week. Your support and hospitality have been outstanding.

We come together today in very different circumstances to our last meeting in Bali six years ago. Then we rightly celebrated the region’s impressive growth trajectory.

At the same time, we highlighted - in Bali - the need to improve the region’s record on ratification and implementation of international labour standards. We still have work to do on this. But we have seen some important progress in recent years.

Since the adoption of the Bali Declaration in 2016, you have made an additional 50 ratifications. Earlier this year, Bangladesh joined the list of countries to have ratified all eight fundamental conventions.

This was before the addition of the two occupational safety and health conventions at our 110th International Labour Conference in June. Thank you for making this a priority. We want everyone to be able to share equally in the benefits of future, human-centred growth.

Today, labour standards, employment policies and social protection matter more than ever.

During booming economic times, it is easy to forget that certain groups are left behind. Such as casual workers or micro-entrepreneurs scraping a living outside the umbrella of formal institutions and protections. They are surviving. But they are certainly not thriving. Such disadvantaged groups tend not to ask for assistance.

This is why – in the name of social justice – we must be their voice and we must step up on their behalf. We must build up labour market institutions. We must extend to them the labour and social protections that can make their lives more secure.

This is why the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted. And this is why you have all pledged to “leave no one behind”. So it is time for us to honour that pledge. Because we face challenging times.

The impact of COVID-19, combined with geopolitical turmoil, economic crisis and natural disasters, have pushed social progress in the region somehow backwards.

Millions who had escaped working poverty to join the middle class are now back below the poverty line. Or perched just above it. Many poor households are taking on more and more debt as inflation drives food and energy prices higher and higher.

The pandemic disrupted education for millions of school-age children. And we are now seeing a sharp increase in the number of young people who are not in employment, nor in education, nor in training.

Enterprises have been hard hit, especially small and micro-enterprises, many of which have had to cease operations. This situation is not sustainable. It is in such circumstances that the ILO mandate becomes more relevant than ever.

Workers need decent work and for their rights to be respected. Enterprises want a chance to stay viable in an increasingly complex global economic system. Everyone deserves access to health care and access to income security.

If we are to build just and sustainable societies that have a chance of lasting peace, we must cultivate social justice. These are the principles that must guide all of us towards concrete outcomes during this meeting.

Outcomes that will make a difference to the lives of millions of workers and their families. Drawing from the ILO report – Renewed social justice for a human-centred recovery – I would highlight the following seven points:

First, we know that economic growth in this region has not been inclusive. The lives of many have been improved through structural transformation and trade via global supply chains. But the benefits of manufacturing-led growth appear to have peaked and we are seeing increased income inequalities.

Second, I think we can agree that this region still has a long way to go towards achieving gender equality. Excluding half the population from equal success in the labour market puts clear limits on productivity and economic growth.

Third, social protection systems in this region are lacking. Less than half the population has access to any social protection benefits. And public spending on social protection is significantly below the global average. This does not make any economic sense.

Fourth, enterprises are the backbone of economic growth and need an enabling environment to thrive in. But labour productivity has stagnated in the region. Therefore innovation and effective employment policies, including skills and training, are needed to boost productivity and shared prosperity.

Fifth, this region suffers from frequent climate-related natural disasters. This means urgent efforts are required to ensure a Just Transition to a green economy.

Sixth, we know that there are a billion workers in this region’s informal economy. Yet not enough is being done to reduce labour market duality.

Seventh, labour migration is an issue that ties the region together. Many migrant-sending and migrant-destination countries are represented here today. Why then are we not advancing faster in terms of fair and safe labour migration governance?

Our common goal at this meeting must be to get back on the pre-crisis track and build forward, build better from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This means prioritizing decent work and social justice as the driving forces for a human-centred recovery. It also means promoting increased investment in labour market institutions built on the foundations of social dialogue.

We know this is possible – and that it works. Because the response to the COVID-19 pandemic showed that it can be done. We saw how countries scaled up support to households, workers and enterprises through the mechanisms of labour market institutions. We saw also how countries with stronger labour market policies, institutions and social protection successfully counteracted some of the crisis shocks.

But I do recognize we have to be realistic. We recognize that investing in strong labour market institutions requires deep fiscal pockets. Many countries here face fiscal constraints that are unlikely to ease for the next few months if not years.

It is not an easy time to ask you to honour your commitments to the Global call to action for a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient. I understand that. But, we must make progress on the ILO’s decent work and social justice mandate. To do so, we must reinforce our partnership with the multilateral system and work together through a Social Justice Coalition.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I hope that over the course of this Regional Meeting we will find common ground on the regional priorities for action. This is essential for achieving the human-centred future of work outlined in the Centenary Declaration. And to drive a recovery founded on job-rich growth that is inclusive and transformative.

As I said earlier, the region faces strong headwinds. But regardless of the obstacles placed before us, we must not waver from our path of championing fundamental principles and rights at work. We must continue to work together to promote social justice through the framework of the decent work agenda.

And we must make progress to:
  • First, strengthen good governance, including ratifications and application of international labour standards.
  • Second, support constituents on the creation and implementation of strong and effective gender-responsive policies and institutions of work.
  • And third, focus on policy coherence and significantly increase investments in social justice in our Member States.
As you begin your work this week, please know that the ILO is listening to you and is ready to support you.

The outlook is indeed challenging. But I know that if we work together, we can strengthen labour markets, increase productivity and ensure everyone benefits from shared prosperity.

I look forward to working with you during this regional meeting and in the years to come.

Thank you.