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Labour rights protection weak in Asia: ILO

by December 18, 2016 General

The rate of ratification of the ILO core conventions to protect labour rights by Asian and Pacific nations is the lowest in the world, according to a top official of the International Labour Organisation.

“Unfortunately, Asia and the Pacific region as a whole is a region whose ratification of the core conventions is the lowest in the world,” said Tomoko Nishimoto, assistant director general and regional director for Asia and the Pacific of the ILO.

“I think this is a very important point. People probably know, but we repeatedly have to tell the nations of this region that this is not acceptable,” he said in an interview with The Daily Star, on the sidelines of the recently concluded Asia Pacific Regional Meeting or APRM of the ILO in Bali.

Only 14 out of 47, including the West Asian Arab countries, ratified the ILO’s eight core conventions; as a result, the workers do not have legal protection for fundamental labour rights, she added.

The ILO’s governing body has identified eight conventions as ‘fundamental’ or core covering subjects.

Some of the core conventions are freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour, the effective abolition of child labour, and the elimination of discrimination in employment and occupation.

There are currently over 1,357 ratifications of these conventions, representing 91.7 percent of the possible number of ratifications, according to the ILO.

This region, which accounts for 60 percent of the global labour force, has made remarkable progress in the last decade, she said.

A further 125 ratifications are still required to meet the objective of universal ratification of all the fundamental conventions by 2015 under the United Nations Development Millennium Goals, according to the ILO, which is the organisation to set up international labour standards.

One of the most important indicators in terms of the labour situation is whether the countries have ratified those international conventions or not. The rate of ratification of the ILO’s core conventions indicates the real situation of labour rights in Asia and the Pacific.

“In this region, there is more than 5 or 6 percent growth, but that did not translate into good or decent jobs and good wage is linked to productivity,” said Nishimoto.

When the issue of labour rights is discussed, the economic growth of any particular country or region is important. Another important feature is the presence of social dialogue among three partners — government, the union and workers and employers.

Regarding the healthy practice of labour rights, Nishimoto said good examples are coming up in this region as well, notably Singapore. “Social dialogue is working well in dispute resolution.”

Nishimoto said tripartism plays an important role in dissolving disputes in industries. However, trade unionism is not an alternative to tripartism, because in tripartism, it requires three parties having the capacity, understanding and the willingness to talk and have an effective social dialogue.

Strong trade unionism, which is good, makes a very conducive environment in the industries, as trade unionism is formed by registration, she added.

When there is strong trade unionism, they have a good representation, and then tripartism happens.

Nishimoto explained the causes for a lower rate of ratification by the member states of Asia and the Pacific.

One major cause is: some countries think if the conventions are ratified, the domestic industries will be destroyed by the agitating workers, she said. But lower ratification does not mean that there is no effort from the ILO to get the conventions ratified by the member states. Sometimes there is a misunderstanding about collective bargaining under unionism.

Social dialogue should really look for the win-win situation, which is good for workers, government, and the employers and good for the entire country, she said.

Mentioning the recent trend in unionism, Nishimoto said many factory owners are ready to introduce social dialogue to resolve disputes, because the employers are very close and linked to the global supply chain and the buyers.

Take Bangladesh as an example. Immediately after the Rana Plaza building collapse, government, employers and workers have been working through establishing tripartism or social dialogue for better industrial relations.

The whole world was surprised with the poor state of migrant workers last year. The ILO has also been working with this widely discussed issue. The ILO held separate dialogues on safe migration, fair recruitment and fair wages of migrant workers at the 16th APRM.

The forum has already formulated the guidelines for fair wages for the migrant workers for both sending and receiving countries.

The ILO also approved the guidelines for fair recruitment. Both the sending and receiving countries have to build capacity for fair recruitment and fair wages, she said.

Nishimoto also discussed the issue of abuse of domestic workers, especially in the Middle East.