Singapore President Halimah Yacob and International Labour Organization (ILO) Director General (DG) Gilbert Houngbo opened the ILO’s 17th Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting (APRM) in Singapore on Wednesday, highlighting the need for inclusive growth as the regions build back from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Running from 6-9 December, the APRM is discussing issues affecting employment and the world of work in Asia, the Pacific and Arab States. The conclusions will help shape the direction of national labour and employment policies as well as the ILO‘s work in both regions going forward.
More than 500 delegates are taking part – including 19 ministers and vice ministers – representing governments, workers’ and employers’ organisations from 33 of the region’s 48 member countries.
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“The Regional Meeting provides us a platform to unite in dialogue to navigate the uncertainties that lie ahead of us,” President Halimah Yacob told delegates. “The pandemic and recent economic upheavals have given us another opportunity to rethink our growth model. The ILO plays a critical role in ensuring a fairer and more inclusive growth model where everyone has a stake,” the President said.
Addressing delegates at the opening session, ILO DG Houngbo highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with political, economic and climate crises had pushed social progress backwards.
“More than ever, workers are getting by on informal work, in jobs that provide little in the way of protection and security. We are now living under circumstances when labour standards, employment policies and social protection matter more than ever,” Mr Houngbo said.
“We want everyone to be able to share equally in the benefits of future, human-centred growth,” he added.
Labour markets in Asia-Pacific and Arab States have recorded a partial rebound from the impact of COVID-19 yet with conditions expected to remain difficult into 2023 prospects for investment, growth and full labour market recovery remain elusive.
DG Houngbo highlighted that even without the considerable impact of the COVID pandemic, structural weaknesses within the Asia-Pacific and Arab States labour markets hampered decent and equitable job growth.
Limited progress on gender equality, the lack of social protection coverage for large parts of the population, stagnant labour productivity, high youth unemployment rates and persistently high levels of informality were all identified as major issues facing both regions.
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“These underlying weaknesses need to be tackled if we are to deliver social justice and decent work,” Mr Houngbo said.
“With effective pro-employment policies, more social protection, a respect for labour rights, constructive social dialogue and an enabling business environment, countries can equip themselves to benefit from the future of work,” he added.
The ILO DG also stressed the importance of well-functioning labour market institutions.
“We saw during the pandemic response how the countries that had stronger labour market institutions were able to counteract some of the crisis shocks more efficiently and effectively,” he said.
However, the DG recognised the challenges faced by ILO member countries to commit more resources during the current economic climate.
“It is not an easy task to scale up action toward the ILO’s decent work and social justice mandate. To advance through these turbulent times, we need to heighten our partnership with the multilateral system and work together through a Social Justice Coalition,” he added.
APRM Delegates elected Dr Tan See Leng, Minister for Manpower of Singapore to Chair the APRM. Ms Arti Ahuja, Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Labour and Employment became the Vice Chair representing government delegates, Mr Robert Yap, President Singapore National Employers Federation was elected as Vice Chair representing employers, and Ms Mary Liew, President of the National Trades Union Congress, Vice Chair for workers.
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