What kind of world do we want to live in?

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

Our world is chang­ing with un­prece­dented ra­pid­ity. Tech­nol­ogy, de­mog­ra­phy, cli­mate change and glob­al­iza­tion are mega-trends that seem to be pow­er­ing ahead, cre­at­ing uncer­tainty and, in some cases, fear of change.

But, in Asia, the ex­pe­ri­ence of change over the last 50 years has been gen­er­ally positive. It has brought pros­per­ity, lift­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple out of poverty. To­day, about half of the re­gion’s work­ers and their fam­i­lies are now clas­si­fied as mid­dle class or richer. With bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion and more in­vest­ment, peo­ple are mov­ing from agri­cul­ture into higher-value man­u­fac­tur­ing and ser­vices. So­cial pro­tec­tion is ex­pand­ing, and la­bor pro­duc­tiv­ity has been grow­ing at about twice the global rate.

But the wave of pros­per­ity has not washed over ev­ery­one equally. In­come and so­cial in­equal­ity per­sists, and in some places has widened. One in ev­ery 10 work­ers in the re­gion still lives in ex­treme poverty. More than 1 bil­lion peo- ple are in vul­ner­a­ble em­ploy­ment. And there is a con­cern­ing trend of for­mal em­ploy­ment be­com­ing “in­for­mal­ized”, through con­tract, tem­po­rary or part-time work.

So the is­sue is not change it­self, but what kind of change? How do we shape th­ese global mega­trends so that they de­liver the fu­ture we want?

I see one very clear an­swer to this — that the fu­ture must be based on the no­tion of de­cent work and so­cial jus­tice.

Plac­ing de­cent work and so­cial jus­tice at the core of pol­i­cy­mak­ing is sim­ply rec­og­niz­ing the ob­vi­ous; none of us can build a bet­ter fu­ture for our­selves un­less we in­clude oth­ers.

The im­por­tance of de­cent work for in­clu­sive and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment has been rec­og­nized in­ter­na­tion­ally and is fully re­flected in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment.

From Dec 6 to 9, I will join hun­dreds of gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of work­ers’ and em­ploy­ers’ or­ga­ni­za­tions, aca­demics and oth­ers to dis­cuss this, at the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s 16th Asia and the Pa­cific Re­gional Meet­ing, in Bali, In­done­sia.

The del­e­gates rep­re­sent more than 40 coun­tries in Asia, the Pa­cific and the Arab States — equiv­a­lent to about 60 per­cent of the global work­force. This ambitious fo­rum only takes place ev­ery four years, and the range of ac­tors brought to­gether is unique in the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem — nowhere out­side the ILO do lead­ers of em­ploy­ers’ and work­ers’ or­ga­ni­za­tions sit down to ne­go­ti­ate equally with gov­ern­ment min­is­ters. This gives our dis­cus­sions real representational and pol­i­cy­mak­ing strength.

The coun­tries in this group are very di­verse but, as they pre­pare for this meet­ing, I strongly en­cour­age them to fo­cus more on the sim­i­lar­ity of the chal­lenges they face. If they use their com­bined strength to har­ness th­ese mega-trends, they can cre­ate a re­gion-wide, co­or­di­nated pro­gramme of ac­tion that will pave the road to an in­clu­sive and pros­per­ous re­gion that of­fers de­cent work and so­cial jus­tice to all.

We need eco­nomic growth that is sus­tain­able and job-rich, rather than just sta­tis­ti­cally im­pres­sive. Such growth can only be last­ing and eq­ui­table if it is built on the foun­da­tions of strong and rel­e­vant la­bor mar­ket in­sti­tu­tions.

The pro­mo­tion of eq­uity and equality must be at the heart of our la­bor mar­ket sys­tems; for ex­am­ple, through ef­fec­tive leg­is­la­tion, so­cial pro­tec­tion sys­tems, and the ap­pro­pri­ate use of wage set­ting and col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing.

We must rec­og­nize that work­ers’ rights do not end at bor­ders. La­bor mi­gra­tion is a mas­sive and grow­ing trend. Many Asia-Pa­cific economies de­pend heav­ily on mi­grant work­ers. When la­bor mi­gra­tion is prop­erly man­aged, it is a con­duit for skills and wages to flow where they are most needed. It can, and must, be a triple-win — ben­e­fit­ing mi­grant work­ers and their fam­i­lies, their home coun­try and their des­ti­na­tion.

And, cru­cially, we need ef­fec­tive so­cial di­a­logue. None of this will be achieved with­out dis­cus­sions and negotiations that en­gage all the stake­hold­ers of the “real” econ­omy in pol­i­cy­mak­ing and im­ple­men­ta­tion, and treat their views with equal im­por­tance and re­spect.

The 2030 Agenda for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment of­fers us a chance to trans­form the fu­ture of work so that it is in­clu­sive, de­cent and eq­ui­table. It is a huge chal­lenge, which will take great po­lit­i­cal will, long-term think­ing and so­phis­ti­cated co­or­di­na­tion. I am con­fi­dent that the economies of this re­gion can rise to it.

The au­thor is di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

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