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Trade unions adopt conclusion for just economy, decent work in South-East Asia

MANILA, PHILIPPINES – More than 30 trade unions and workers organizations’ representatives from 10 countries in South-East Asia have committed to work together to create a just, sustainable and fair economy, that enables decent work for all workers. In a sub-regional conference, they charted and identified common and concrete policies for collaboration in a joint conclusion.

The joint conclusion was adopted in the Philippines on 11 October 2022. It was the first face-to-face meeting since the pandemic bringing together workers’ representatives from Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Viet Nam. The South-East Asian Trade Union sub-regional conference held on 10-11 October 2022 focused on strategies for resilience and recovery post COVID-19.

ILO ACTRAV Director Director Maria Helena André highlights that unity is crucial to strengthen unions so they can truly represent all workers. ©ILO/G. Carreon

“The existing geopolitical tensions, armed conflicts, climate change and natural disasters, energy, food and financial crises continue to exacerbate inequalities and violations of workers’ and trade union rights around the world,” said Director Maria Helena André of the International Labour Organization Bureau for Workers Activities (ILO ACTRAV). “We remain committed to supporting the trade unions in the region in every step, to promote inclusive, equitable and sustainable development to advance the Decent Work Agenda and safeguard the rights of all workers in the region.”

In the joint conclusion, trade unions pledged to respond and address the systemic challenges in the world of work, as well as to be the voice of the marginalized labour, with focus on inclusive job-rich growth and full recognition and protection of the rights of all workers in the subregion.

They have also reaffirmed their commitment to work together to build coordination, collaboration, and solidarity at the national, regional, and global levels to promote the decent work agenda for sustainable and inclusive development, with a focus on the promotion of international labour standards, particularly fundamental principles such as the recently adopted fundamental rights to occupational safety and health for all workers.

In the past decade, digital labour platforms have also increased fivefold globally. With the emergence of the gig or platform economy, trade unions have committed to organizing workers with new forms of work, such as platform workers, using innovative approaches to better represent workers’ voices in social dialogue and beyond.

ILO Manila Director Khalid Hassan cites that the battles to achieve greater social justice and decent work are not yet over, and there is still much to be done. ©ILO/G. Carreon

“As the globe warms, workers and their families must deal with the effects of extreme weather events. Workers organizations in the region must always stand tall and true when addressing known risks and responding to crises. Despite the adversity, trade unions must demonstrate solidarity, strength and resiliency, continue to support workers and really be organizations that they can rely on,” said Mr Khalid Hassan, Director of the ILO Country Office for the Philippines.

In response to climate change, trade unions in the sub-region agreed to work collectively on green jobs and just transitions to address employment and labour market issues in relation to climate change, the fourth industrial revolution and new ways of production The future of work is uncertain due to technological advancement, climate change, uneven globalization and demographic shifts. The COVID-19 has escalated global tensions and armed conflicts, which have aggravated these realities.

Moreover, trade unions will work towards the adoption of inclusive social protection measures within the sub-region to mitigate the negative impacts on workers and their families, in the event of a pandemic, climate event, or other natural and human induced disasters.

Mr Jiang Guanping, Vice-Chairrperson of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), addresses the South-East Asia Trade Union Conference delegates in a hybrid setting. ©ILO/G. Carreon

“The ILO Monitor on COVID-19 and the world of work shows that trade unions played an important role as social partners in responding to the challenges of the pandemic and achieving a people-centred recovery. Strengthening solidarity and joint action is the right choice for recovery in this era,” as Mr Jiang Guanping, Vice-Chairperson of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) highlighted.

Trade unions have also committed to jointly engage in campaigns and advocacy agenda for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar and respect for the freedom of association and right to bargain collectively, which are critical for social dialogue, in countries where workers do not enjoy basic human and workers’ rights such as the Philippines, on eradication of discrimination and oppression against union leaders and members, and elimination of gender-based violence.

Mr Ruben Torres, General Secretary of the ASEAN Trade Union Council (ATUC) in a panel discussion on on opportunities and challenges on social dialogue. ©ILO/G. Carreon

“The conference was an excellent opportunity to exchange experiences, learn from each other and adopt strategies. There is no one size solution. We must work in a very collaborative way. Collaboration at the national, regional and beyond on the labour movement and respond to changes,” said Mr Ruben Torres, General Secretary of the ASEAN Trade Union Council (ATUC).

The sub-regional conference provided trade unions with the opportunity to understand the importance and urgency of moving forward and renewing the labour movement on a national and subregional scale. The pandemic accelerated changes in the world of work, and the growth of emerging sectors. Thus, trade unions face challenges in remaining resilient, relevant, and representative of all workers, and they have agreed to work collectively to ensure a strong and active ASEAN Trade Union Council as a social dialogue partner by ASEAN to engage and influence labour policies in the sub-region.

Delegates of the South-East Asia Trade Union Conference with ILO ACTRAV Director Maria Helena André (centre). ©ILO/G. Carreon

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