At a time when the world is threatened with another economic crisis and the need for social dialogue between workers, government and employers was underscored at the 15th Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting (ARPM) of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), concerns were expressed on the serious situation in Fiji where there is complete denial of fundamental rights for workers.
On the concluding day on Wednesday, the meeting passed a resolution condemning the action in Fiji where the government has since 2006 jailed trade union leaders. The Public Emergency Regulations of 2009 in Fiji made it illegal to hold union meetings unless authorised by the government and permission for meetings are not granted. The Regulations also allow police to break up union meetings which it has done several times this year and the military has severely assaulted and harassed trade union officials leading in some cases to severe physical injury.
The Fiji government also prevented Felix Anthony, the national secretary of the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) from attending meetings of the ILO and also imposed a ban preventing him from attending the 15th ARPM meeting here. The resolution demanded that these restrictions be removed immediately. The government of Fiji has cancelled union registrations and requires all trade unions in many corporations in various sectors to be registered under the Essential National Industries Decree which prevents unions from electing any fulltime person into office and only allows for the establishment of bargaining units with prior approval by the Prime Minister.
While ILO Director-General Juan Somavia intervened thrice and ILO executive director Guy Ryder also visited the country, there has been no change, delegates said.
Decent work in a time of crisis
At its closing plenary, the meeting also adopted a 63-point resolution which mainly focused on the huge challenges in the region of providing quality employment in the light of another economic slowdown, skills training, and ensuring that decent work is at the heart of policies for strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth in the region. The resolution stressed the need for social dialogue to anticipate and address labour market changes, and focus on protecting migrants’ rights and promoting the ILO instruments on migration and the Domestic Workers Convention. It called for better social protection of workers and sustainable investments in green jobs.
Forty per cent of the natural disasters in the world and 82 per cent of the resulting casualties have occurred in the Asia Pacific region, according to the Japan government and this was a major area of the concern. Japan and other affected countries stressed the need for employment and social policies as an important part of planning for disaster prevention and response which is assuming importance for ILO cooperation in the region.
Stephen Pursey, director, policy integration, ILO said the main change since the last ARPM meeting in Busan was that the meeting discussed a number of natural disasters over the last four years and a looming economic crisis. Half way through the decade the second half looks a lot worse than the first half, he remarked.
Delegates at the meeting were very conscious of the trauma, and the issue of how to recover jobs and livelihoods after the spate of disasters. While no region would be immune from the economic crisis, he said the approach was to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. “We don’t seem to get enough jobs and livelihoods from the previous economic boom. Most of developing Asia has a fast growing working age population, and if economic growth dips below 6 per cent, there will be no increase in jobs,” he said.
The Arab states mainly are faced with the highest levels of youth unemployment and lack of fundamental rights to organise. There were protests for change and it was important to have institutions in this context and a social dialogue to keep the channels open and negotiate with people. At the last ARPM in Busan, the employment situation was promising and people were thinking about the challenges of a strong prosperous period ahead, he said. Now things are much more uncertain and there are worries about social tensions in all sorts of countries, not the least because of youth employment. This is where you need social dialogue, trade unions and exchanges, he said.
Step up for ILO
Trade unions, government and employers agreed to cooperate on a range issues and this tripartite constituency will be used in home countries to discuss their policy priorities. ILO will be working closely with G20, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United Nations (UN).
It is working with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for its upcoming ministerial review in July 2012 which will focus on the Global Jobs pact and the response to the project.
The engagement of the ILO in the global economic discussions had made a huge step up in the last couple of years, he said. ”Partly we have been pushing to get there, but it’s not been so difficult since governments are acutely aware of job challenges, and it’s a global issue. There is a marked change in the last couple of years in the IMF in their thinking on how to integrate employment and social issues into the broader economic analysis,” he said. Another big change is the emergence of the G20 – there are three huge Asian developing countries that are at the top table of international economic discussions-India, China and Japan-things like improving minimum wages, employment guarantee schemes, basic social protection are on the agenda.