1. The Twelfth ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting was convened from 29 to 30 April 1998, and was preceded by the ASEAN Senior Labour Officials Meeting held from 27 to 28 April 1998 in Hanoi, Vietnam.
2. The Meeting was officially opened by His Excellency Dr. Pham Gia Khiem, Deputy Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. In his Keynote Speech, the Deputy Prime Minister welcomed all delegates from Member Countries, particularly from Laos and Myanmar, as well as the Observer from Cambodia. He noted the strengthened will and determination of the Member Countries to work for peace, prosperity and sustained development. The Deputy Prime Minister pointed out that the ASEAN region is now facing a financial and economic crisis, which affects social and economic development, particularly labour and employment, in a number of countries. However, he also expressed confidence That each Member Country, and ASEAN as a whole, would design appropriate policies, adopt effective measures and enhance regional cooperation to overcome the difficulties and effects caused by the crisis. In view of that, the Deputy Prime Minister emphasised that human resources development, improved working conditions, job creation and income generation for the working population represented major goals of Vietnam as well as other Member Countries. He believed that cooperation in labour among Member Countries and the ILO, would be further strengthened.
3. The Meeting was attended by H.E. Dato Haji Abidin OKP Abd Rashid, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs of Brunei Darussalam; H.E. Mr. Theo L. Sambuaga; Minister of Manpower of the Republic of Indonesia; H.E. Mr. Somphan Phengkhammy, Minister of Labour and Social Welfare of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic; H.E. Dato’ Lim Ah Lek, Minister of Human Resources of Malaysia; H.E. Vice-Admiral Tin E, Minister for Labour of the Union of Myanmar; H.E. Mr. Cresenciano B. Trajano, Secretary of Labour and Employment of the Republic of the Philippines; H.E. Dr. Lee Boon Yang, Minister for Manpower of the Republic of Singapore; H.E. Dr. Trairong Suwankiri, Minister of Labour and Social Welfare of Thailand; H.E. Madam Nguyen Thi Hang, Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and their respective delegations. Dr. Filemon A. Uriarte, Jr, Representative of the Secretary-General of ASEAN and members of the ASEAN Secretariat staff were also in attendance. H.E. Mr. Nuon Sareth, Ambassador of the Royal Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia attended as Observer.
4. The Ministers welcomed the Delegations from Laos and Myanmar who were attending the ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting for the first time. The Ministers also welcomed Cambodia who attended the Meeting as Observer.
5. Her Excellency Mrs. Nguyen Thi Hang, Minister of Labour, Invalid and Social Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, and His Excellency Vice-Admiral Tin E, Minister for Labour of the Union of Myanmar, were unanimously elected Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson of the Meeting, respectively.
6. In her welcoming remarks, the Chairperson noted that apart from reviewing the regional projects and discussing ILO matters, the Meeting also focused attention on identifying appropriate measures to implement the decisions of the Second ASEAN Informal Summit and on the preparations for the Sixth ASEAN Summit to be held in Hanoi, as well as coordinating common positions on relevant issues in international fora. The Chairperson added that the Meeting was all the more important as it was held at a time when many Member Countries, including Vietnam, were affected by the on-going financial and economic crisis which seriously affected labour, employment and social life, with millions of workers left unemployed. She called upon Member Countries to cooperate more closely in order to find solutions to lessen the impact of the crisis, and emphasised Vietnam’s determination to maintain its policy of overall renovation, industrialisation and modernisation, and integration into the regional and international community.
Impact of the Financial and Economic Crisis on Labour and Employment in ASEAN
7. The Ministers expressed concern that the Asian financial economic crisis has adversely affected the labour and employment situation in the ASEAN region. The Ministers noted the recommendations of the ILO High-Level Tripartite Meeting on Social Responses to the Financial Crisis in East and South-East Asian Countries held from 22 to 24 April 1998 in Bangkok, Thailand. These recommendations include the promotion of regular consultations among the social partners in relation to economic restructuring, the strengthening of mediation and conciliation machinery, training and dissemination of information and the sharing of best practices, with particular reference to the promotion of tripartite institutions at the national level.
8. As a follow-up to the above-mentioned recommendations, the Ministers requested the ASEAN Secretariat to explore with the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Development Programme, the possibility of developing an ASEAN regional programme as a response to the effects of the financial and economic crisis.
9. In line with the ILO priorities and fundamental objectives, the Ministers called upon the ILO to consider the following:
9.1. The ASEAN Labour Ministers recognised the ILO’s efforts and contribution to the welfare of the working population through the promotion of labour standards and technical assistance to the member States.
9.2. The Ministers noted the initiative taken by the Director-General of the ILO in proposing the Declaration on the Fundamental Rights of Workers, with the view to encouraging member States to observe the seven fundamental Conventions. The ILO also proposed follow-up mechanisms to monitor and encourage the progress of ratification of these Conventions.
9.3. The Ministers noted that the Declaration of Philadelphia already enshrines the principles and objectives of bringing about social progress and a better life for workers throughout the world. Hence, a Declaration reiterating the same principles and objectives may not be necessary. However, ASEAN is prepared to go along with the adoption of a Declaration if the concerns of the ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific countries, as reflected in their respective statements to the 271st Session of the Governing Body of the ILO, are addressed satisfactorily.
9.4. In this regard, the ASEAN Labour Ministers reaffirmed their full support to the Asia-Pacific position that ratification of the ILO Conventions is voluntary and should be achieved through promotional means and based on the stage of development of each member State. Without impinging on the sovereign rights of each member State, the Declaration can enhance the progressive ratification and enforcement of the fundamental Conventions.
9.5. The ASEAN Labour Ministers are of the view that the Declaration and its follow-up mechanism should not impose new obligations on member States or create double-scrutiny but should build upon well-established procedures.
9.6. The ASEAN Labour Ministers emphasised that ASEAN does not condone child labour. They welcomed the ILO initiative to come up with a new instrument to combat intolerable forms of child labour; retaining the view, however, that condemning the phenomenon or instituting sanction-based measures would aggravate the situation. The Ministers further agreed that the root cause of child labour is poverty and that the best solution is to eradicate poverty by generating gainful employment, providing education and training and enhancing regional and international cooperation.
10. The Ministers expressed their satisfaction with the progress of the ongoing ASEAN projects in the field of labour: namely ASEAN Training and Information Centre for Improvement of Working Conditions and Environment/ ASEAN Occupational Safety and Health Network (ASEAN-OSHNET); and Promotion of Self-Employment and Development in the Informal Sector, which are being implemented by the ASEAN Secretariat with funding assistance from the UNDP ASP-5 Sub-Programme on Human Development. They noted with appreciation the efforts of the ASEAN Secretariat in securing funding from the UNDP to implement the ASEAN Regional Project on Human Resource Development Planning with the ILO as executing agent. The Ministers also expressed their appreciation to the UNDP and the ILO for their assistance and contributions to the project.
11. The delegations of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Lao PDR. Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand expressed their deep appreciation to the Government and the people of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam for the generous hospitality extended to the delegations and the excellent arrangements made for the Meeting. The Ministers also registered their sincere appreciation to the ASEAN Secretariat for its valuable contributions to the success of the Meeting.
12. The Ministers welcomed with appreciation Myanmar’s acceptance to host the 13th ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting in Yangon, in April 1999.
13. The Meeting was held in the tradition of ASEAN cordiality and solidarity.