Labour sector plays an integral role in national development as well as in regional integration. The ASEAN cooperation on labour is led by the ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting (ALMM) which meets every two years and is supported by the Senior Labour Officials Meeting (SLOM). Since the historical 1st ALMM in April 1975 in Jakarta, Indonesia, the ASEAN cooperation on labour has continuously grown in depth and scope.

Building on past cooperation and common interest and priorities shared among ten ASEAN Member States, the ALMM adopted the new ASEAN Labour Ministers (ALM) Work Programme 2016-2020 at the 24th ALMM on 15 May 2016 in Vientiane, Lao PDR. The ALM Work Programme 2016-2020 sets out the objective toward “a better quality of life for ASEAN people through workforce with enhanced competitiveness and engaged in safe and decent work derived from productive employment, harmonious and progressive workplace, and adequate social protection.” At outcome level, the ALM Work Programme covers four Key Result Areas of skilled and adaptable workforce; productive employment; harmonious, safe and progressive workplace; and expanded social protection. These have been translated into 23 thematic areas that are being addressed by SLOM and its three Subsidiary Bodies.

ASEAN Labour Cooperation Structure

SLOM has established three Subsidiary Bodies namely:

  1. Senior Labour Officials Meeting Working Group on Progressive Labour Practices to Enhance the Competitiveness of ASEAN (SLOM-WG)

SLOM-WG was first established in 2006 as an Ad-Hoc Working Group and was reconstituted as a permanent body under SLOM in 2008 and has its first Work Plan. SLOM-WG focuses its efforts on thematic areas including labour market information system, skills development, skills recognition, promotion of inclusive employment, labour inspection, social protection for workers, productivity of workers in informal workers, capacity building on tripartism and labour dispute and labour justice.

SLOM-WG has actively been implementing various projects and activities that strengthen capacities of ASEAN Member States to promote welfare and competitiveness of ASEAN workforce. These include seminars and workshops on social security, work-life harmony, employment dispute settlement and decent work. SLOM-WG has also developed and published standard setting guidelines including ASEAN Guidelines on Good Industrial Relations Practices and the ASEAN Guidelines for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) on Labour.

SLOM-WG conducted and published the Study on Comparative Labour Laws and Practices in ASEAN with the support of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and ASEAN Service Employees Trade Union Council (ASETUC). The Study looks into labour and social legislations pertaining to employment of women, youth and persons with disabilities in ASEAN Member States.

Since 2010, SLOM-WG also convenes the ASEAN Labour Inspection Conference on regular basis. The Conference has served as important platform to share information, knowledge and experiences, promote professionalism and build network among labour inspectorates and labour inspectors in ASEAN.

To contribute to the enhanced competitiveness of ASEAN workforce, SLOM-WG has implemented a number of initiatives including on labour market information system, skills development and skills recognition. Once every two years, the ASEAN Skills Competition is held and participated by technical and vocational students who compete for excellence in various skills areas. The ASEAN Guiding Principles for Quality Assurance and Recognition of Competency Certification Systems was developed and adopted by the ASEAN Labour Ministers to provide the basis for developing trust and understanding and principles for recognition of national qualification framework and competency certification systems among ASEAN Member States.

  1. ASEAN Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (ACMW)

On 13 January 2007, the ASEAN Leaders signed the landmark ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migration Workers, also known as the Cebu Declaration, at the 12th ASEAN Summit in Cebu, the Philippines. As a follow-up action, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers called for the establishment of the ASEAN Committee on the implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (ACMW) which will report to SLOM. The Statement adopted at the 40th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on 30 July 20107 in Manila, the Philippines sets out two purposes of the ACMW, notably:

  • To ensure the effective implementation of the commitments made under the Declaration; and
  • To facilitate the development of an ASEAN instrument on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers.

Subsequently, the 1st Meeting of the ACMW was convened in September 2008 in Singapore and the first work plan was subsequently developed.

The ACMW has conducted several projects and activities that enhance capacity and awareness of government officials to protect and promote rights of migrant workers. Several capacity building and knowledge sharing workshops have been held on various issues such as safe migration, labour dimension of trafficking in persons, malpractices in recruitment, and overseas employment administration. Each year since 2008, the ACMW hosts the ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour (AFML) which is the region’s biggest forum that brings together government officials from 10 ASEAN Member States, workers’ organisations, employers’ organisations and civil society organisations at national and regional levels, the ASEAN Secretariat, and international organisations (International Labour Organization, International Organization for Migration and UN Women) to discuss and exchange views on various issues relating to the rights of intra-ASEAN migrant workers.

The ACMW has also published the Repository Matrix of Legislations and Policies on Migrant Workers of ASEAN Member States and make the legislations and policies available on ASEAN website.

In 2017, the ACMW, together with the ASEAN Secretariat, UN Women and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), commissioned and launched the Study on Women Migrant Workers in the ASEAN Economic Community which focuses on intra-ASEAN women migrant workers in three ASEAN Priority Integration Sectors of tourism, agro-based products and infrastructure and their opportunities and challenges in recruitment process, access to social protection, skills development and training, informal employment and legal aid that defines their employment opportunities and decent work. The ACMW, with support from Regional EU-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument – Human Rights Facility (READI-HRF), also published the Compendium on Migrant Workers’ Education and Safe Migration Programmes which provides comprehensive information on country migration profile and existing education and safe migration programmes in ASEAN Member States.

  1. ASEAN Occupational Safety and Health Network (ASEAN-OSHNET)

ASEAN-OSHNET is the oldest Subsidiary Body of SLOM. It was established through the Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of the ASEAN-OSHNET which was signed by ASEAN Member States in conjunction with the first ASEAN-OSHNET Coordinating Board Meeting on 2-3 August 2000 in Indonesia. The ASEAN-OSHNET was then officially launched on 16 February 2001 at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia. ASEAN OSHNET aims to promote cooperation in improving occupational safety and health (OSH) in the workplace in the ASEAN region. It also serves as a platform to exchange experience and information in the field of OSH standards, training, research, OSH inspection and national framework. In 2014, the scope of ASEAN-OSHNET extends to include HIV prevention and control in the workplace following the deliberation of the 10th SLOM on 19-20 May 2014 to subsume the SLOM’s Working Group on the HIV Prevention and Control in the Workplace (SLOM-WG-HIV) under ASEAN-OSHNET to streamline the issue of HIV prevention and control in the workplace under the realm of occupational health.

In 2017, ASEAN-OSHNET released the publication “Turning Visions into Actions: Celebrating 15 Years of Collaboration” which captures cooperation and achievements made by ASEAN-OSHNET since its establishment. The cooperation has led to the development of ASEAN-OSHNET Scorecard System, ASEAN Guidelines for Occupational Safety and Health, Guidance Note on OSH Management for SMEs, ASEAN Guidelines on Chemical Classification, Labelling and Safety Data Sheet, Compilation of ASEAN Good Practices on the Implementation of Policies and Programmes on the Prevention and Management of HIV and AIDS in the Workshop and ASEAN Guidelines on Essential Workplace Action for Enterprises on the Prevention and Management of HIV and AIDS in ASEAN Member States, among others.

ASEAN-OSHNET engages business sector in promoting various aspects of occupational safety and health in the workplace. The ASEAN-OSHNET Awards is given to enterprises and SMEs from ASEAN Member States who are nominated biannually for their excellent achievements in improving safety and health in the workplace. The first ASEAN-OSHNET Awards (hyperlink) was held in April 2016 in Da Nang, Viet Nam with 8 enterprises and 6 SMEs from AMS awarded.