1.     The Fifteenth ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting was convened from 10 to 11 May 2001, preceded by the ASEAN Senior Labour Officials Meeting held on 9 May 2001, and the Eighth Meeting of the ASEAN Sub-Committee on Labour Affairs held on 8 May 2001, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

2.     The Meeting was officially opened by the Rt. Hon. Datuk Seri Abdullah Hj. Ahmad Badawi, Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, on behalf of the Rt. Hon. Dato Seri Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia.

3.     In his Keynote Speech, the Rt. Hon. Deputy Prime Minister noted that the annual meetings of the ASEAN Labour Ministers were important to address the ever-changing dynamics of the labour market driven by internal and external factors. These factors needed to be addressed in a concerted manner so as to safeguard the interest and welfare of the region’s workers. Datuk Seri Abdullah Hj. Ahmad Badawi also noted that the Meeting was important in the light of globalisation which had brought about greater linkages among economies of the region.

4.     Datuk Seri Abdullah Hj. Ahmad Badawi observed that in the light of these trends, ASEAN Labour Ministers should examine the challenges facing the labour force and strategic actions to be taken to ensure that the region’s labour force remains competitive. In view of the shift now taking place from a production-based economy to a knowledge-based economy, the Rt. Hon. Deputy Prime Minister emphasised the necessity to ensure that region’s work force moves up the value-added chain through increased productivity, corporate performance, management efficiency and corporate culture. This necessity has become more imperative in view of the adverse impact of the global economic slowdown on ASEAN economies.

5.     Capacity-building was emphasised as the focus to address these challenges. Datuk Seri Abdullah Hj. Ahmad Badawi noted that human capital is the most important determinant of any successful transition to a knowledge-based economy. To achieve this, improving the education standards, skills training and retraining, life-long learning, and consultative industrial relations among the social partners were listed as important strategies to be used by all of the ASEAN economies in order to ensure smooth transition to a knowledge-based economy.

6.     The Meeting was attended by Ministers of Labour from ASEAN Member Countries. The ASEAN Secretariat was also in attendance.

7.     His Excellency Datuk Dr. Fong Chan Onn, Minister for Human Resources of Malaysia, and His Excellency Mr .Sompanh Phengkammy, Minister of Labour and Social Welfare of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic were elected Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Meeting, respectively.

8.     As host of the 15th ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting, Datuk Dr. Fong Chan Onn extended a warm welcome to the Ministers and their delegations. He welcomed the opportunity provided by the 15th ALMM to discuss and share each other’s views on human resource development, which was important for economic development. He was encouraged to note the steady enhancement of cooperation in labour-related issues since the first ALMM in 1975. He noted with satisfaction that ASEAN at present had taken its place as an important entity in the international arena. In this regard, the annual Labour Ministers Meetings were meaningful in order to address the ever-changing dynamics of the labour market.

9.     Datuk Dr. Fong Chan Onn cautioned that the comparative advantage enjoyed by ASEAN in providing low-cost labour was now being slowly eroded with the introduction of new economies. He stressed the need to prepare the region’s labour force to meet these changing circumstances. He looked forward to further enhancing cooperation in this field, not only among ASEAN countries, but also with China, Japan and the Republic of Korea.

Work Programme to Help Realise the ASEAN Labour Ministers Vision

10.     The ASEAN Labour Ministers expressed appreciation to the Philippines for coordinating the preparation of the Work Programme to address the following issues, as agreed at the 13th ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting held in May 1999 in Yangon.

  1. sharing and exchange of experience and best practices in developing social protection and social security systems;

  2. promoting tripartite cooperation through increased consultations among social partners, in relation to economic restructuring, including strengthening of tripartite institutions and mediation/conciliation mechanisms; and

  3. enhancing capacity for designing programmes and policies on employment generation, focusing on active labour market policies and retraining.

11.     In this regard, the Ministers noted that the implementation of the work programme would contribute to the realisation of the objective of the ASEAN Labour Ministers’ Vision to address the impact of globalisation and trade liberalisation on labour and employment, particularly by enhancing the quality of ASEAN’s manpower; strengthening capacity to better manage the impact of economic downturns on labour and employment; and safeguarding the well-being of workers.

ILO Matters

12.     ASEAN Labour Ministers unanimously agreed to support the candidacy of the Philippines as President of the forthcoming 89th ILC in June 2001.

ILO Core Conventions

13.     The ASEAN Labour Ministers noted the efforts by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to promote the ratification of core labour standards. They expressed satisfaction that ASEAN Member Countries had responded positively by ratifying several of the core conventions, in response to the promotional efforts of the ILO. They further noted that Convention No. 182 concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, had received overwhelming support from ASEAN Member Countries. ASEAN Labour Ministers were of the view that children represent the future of the region and should be provided with a conducive environment for their growth and development. The Ministers called for appropriate technical assistance to be extended to ASEAN Member Countries to ensure effective implementation of the Convention.

Developments in Myanmar

14.     The Meeting noted that the Myanmar government had twice invited the ILO Technical Team to visit Myanmar to better understand the situation and to help Myanmar meet the requirements under ILO Convention 29 on Forced Labour. The Meeting further noted that the Myanmar government had also taken concrete legislative, executive and administrative actions to prohibit forced labour. In particular, the Meeting noted that the Myanmar Ministry of Home Affairs had made requisition of forced labour illegal and punishable by law. To ensure that instances of forced labour in the country could be effectively eliminated, it has also formed the National Level Implementation Committee for Forced Labour Convention No. 29.

15.     The Meeting called upon the ILO to recognize these initiatives by the Myanmar Government to stop all forms of forced labour. ASEAN Labour Ministers had been assured that these measures would be enforced and that the Myanmar Government would continue to cooperate with the ILO on the issue of forced labour. ASEAN Labour Ministers therefore urge the ILO to support the Myanmar Government’s measures to meet its obligations and responsibilities under Convention 29 and to refrain from further action under Article 33 of the ILO Constitution. ASEAN Labour Ministers and Delegations to the 89th ILC would also explain the latest initiatives by the Myanmar Government and collectively agreed to seek ILO’s understanding and support of these initiatives.

Standards Setting and Supervisory Mechanisms of the ILO

16.     The ASEAN Labour Ministers were pleased to note the decision of the 279th Session of the Governing Body to review the processes of standards-setting and the Supervisory Mechanisms of the ILO. The Ministers noted that ASEAN, as a group, has repeatedly called for such a review to ensure that labour standards remain relevant in meeting the needs of Member States in a rapidly changing economic and social environment.

17.     On the ILO Supervisory Mechanisms, ASEAN Labour Ministers supported the call by the Asia and Pacific Group for a review of the Mechanisms. Such a review should place great importance on the transparency, objectivity, and promotional nature of the Mechanisms, and should address the following:

  1. criteria for the selection of members of the supervisory bodies;

  2. criteria/process for the selection of individual cases in the Committee of Experts on the Application of Standards; and

  3. the interpretation of compliance with ratified Conventions.

Impact of the Global Economic Slowdown on ASEAN

18.     The ASEAN Ministers noted that the current global economic slowdown threatened to undermine the economic recovery of the region and the progress made in improving employment opportunities in the region following the financial and economic crisis of 1997-1998. The Ministers expressed concern that the economic slowdown experienced by ASEAN’s major trading partners had increased the rate of unemployment in some Member Countries.

19.     The Ministers noted however that the region has now accumulated valuable experience in dealing with the employment impact of economic downturns, having responded to the economic and financial crisis in 1997-1998, and that Member Countries have adopted measures and policies which will enable them to better cope with the current economic slowdown. The Ministers noted that their regional work programme, which is aimed at enhancing capacity to design social protection systems and employment generation programmes and to promote tripartite cooperation in the context of economic restructuring, is even more timely given the current economic climate.

20.     The Ministers agreed that the implementation of the work programme should be given priority and urged ASEAN’s Dialogue Partners to provide more technical assistance and funding support. The Ministers agreed that strategies to cope with economic downturns should also include efforts to narrow the digital divide, expand education on information and communications technologies and to continuously upgrade the skills of the region’s work force. They observed that these strategies would enhance the long-term competitiveness of the region, and reduce its vulnerability to economic downturns.

ASEAN Projects

21.     The Ministers noted the progress in the implementation of the ongoing ASEAN projects in the field of labour. They noted with satisfaction that the Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of the ASEAN-OSHNET had been signed in August 2000 and that the ASEAN-OSHNET Coordinating Board held its First Meeting from 2 to 3 August 2000, and that the ASEAN-OSHNET had been formally launched on 16 February 2001 at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta. The Ministers registered their appreciation to Indonesia for hosting the ASEAN-OSHNET Secretariat during the first three-year term, beginning 2000. The Ministers were also encouraged to note that several projects under the framework of the Four Year Plan of Action of the ASEAN-OSHNET had been implemented on a cost-shared basis, and others through direct funding support from some other Member Countries, and commended the respective coordinating countries for this initiative.

22.     The Ministers also noted the progress of the initiative to develop a technical assistance programme for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Viet Nam (CLMV), in order to assist these countries to integrate into ASEAN. The Ministers commended the ASEAN Secretariat for preparing a Terms of Reference for the envisaged technical assistance mission, which would visit the CLMV countries to identify the needs in the context of closer regional integration. The Ministers agreed to expedite implementation of the technical assistance programme and in this connection looked forward to possible joint collaboration with China, Japan and the Republic of Korea.

23.     ASEAN Labour Ministers noted with appreciation the convening of the 3rd ASEAN Skills Competition in Thailand in March 2001. The Ministers also expressed appreciation to Indonesia for its offer to host the 4th ASEAN Skills Competition tentatively scheduled for March 2002. In the light of further promoting and enhancing the exchange and sharing of skills standards at the regional level, the Ministers also welcomed the development of a project on Promoting Mutual Recognition of Skills as a Means to Enhance Employability and Regional Mobility under the ASEAN-Australia Development Cooperation Program (AADCP) Framework on Strengthening ASEAN Economic Integration.

24.     The Ministers expressed their appreciation to the Central Officials Training Institute of the Republic of Korea (ROK) for proposing to implement a sixth phase of the project Human Resources Development Programme for Officials of ASEAN Countries, for funding under the ASEAN-ROK Special Cooperation Fund. They expressed their hope that the focus of this year’s programme would be on strategies to prepare ASEAN to meet the challenges of globalisation.

25.     The Ministers noted with satisfaction that priority projects have been implemented in the past year despite limited financial resources, thanks to the funding support provided by Member Countries coordinating these projects and the use of cost-sharing arrangements. The Ministers encouraged Member Countries to continue using these arrangements to implement regional activities.

Proposed Philippine Initiative On Common Recognition of Professions in ASEAN

26.     ASEAN Labour Ministers noted with interest the proposed Philippine initiative on common recognition of professions in ASEAN and observed that the initiative would complement the project on promoting mutual recognition of skills under the ALMM Work Programme. The Ministers looked forward to the further development and implementation of the proposed initiative, and to learning further details after the 34th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting scheduled to be held in Hanoi in July 2001.

East Asia Cooperation

27.     The Ministers recalled their interest expressed at the 14th ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting in May 2000 in welcoming the opportunity to hold informal dialogues or consultations with Dialogue Partners with a view to strengthening cooperation to enhance ASEAN’s human resources in meeting the challenges of global economic integration and trade liberalisation. In this regard, they look forward to meeting with the Labour Ministers of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea on 11 May 2001, to follow up on the commitment of the Joint Statement on East Asia Cooperation, adopted in November 1999, to heighten cooperative efforts in social and human resources development, and to alleviate economic and social disparities within and among East Asian countries.

28.     The Ministers noted with appreciation the ongoing joint initiatives carried out with China, Japan and the Republic of Korea in the area of human resource development and other related projects in assisting ASEAN efforts for closer regional integration and in bridging the digital divide. They expressed their hope to further intensify existing cooperation in human resource development under the framework of the Joint Statement on East Asia Cooperation, and to promote more joint activities in the field of labour and HRD, building on the existing capacities and strengths each had to offer. The Ministers expressed their desire to continue to exchange views regarding labour-related issues at various international fora.

29.     ASEAN Labour Ministers also noted with appreciation the Government of Japan’s assistance in implementing the Japan Institute of Labour (JIL) Invitation Programme for Senior Labour-related leaders and that ASEAN participants of the Programme had found the Programme to be very useful. The Ministers expressed the hope that Japan would continue to implement the Programme and to extend the Programme to benefit more participants from ASEAN. Accordingly, the Ministers requested the ASEAN Secretariat to explore with Japan the possibility of implementing the Programme under the ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting and ASEAN-Japan Dialogue.

30.     The Ministers held consultations with their counterparts from China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) on 11 May 2001 on possible areas for cooperation in the field of labour as well as possible joint approaches to international issues. They agreed that the consultation could serve to develop a consensus for shared initiatives and collaboration in future implementation of activities in labour and human resource development.

31.     Regarding possible areas for cooperation in the field of labour, ASEAN Labour Ministers suggested and expressed the hope that among the 5 regional projects presented for cooperation and technical assistance, priority be given to the proposed technical assistance programme for Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam. This is line with the objective of promoting greater integration of the newer Member Countries into the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) and the ASEAN Investment Area (AIA), among others, in line with the Initiative on ASEAN Integration agreed by the Fourth ASEAN Informal Summit in November 2000. The Ministers noted that such integration will result in greater economic competitiveness and enhance ASEAN’s ability to seize the opportunities brought about by globalisation.

32.     The Ministers requested the counterparts from East Asia to provide their response to the ASEAN Secretariat so that appropriate follow-up action could be taken to facilitate the identification and development of possible joint initiatives.

33.     Regarding international issues, ASEAN Labour Ministers reiterated their view, supported by their counterparts from East Asia, that labour standards should not be linked to international trade and that the ILO is the most competent body to deal with the issue.

34.     The Myanmar Minister also briefed his counterparts from East Asia on the latest developments with respect to the measures taken by the Myanmar Government to meet its obligations and responsibilities under Convention 29 on Forced Labour. ASEAN Labour Ministers requested their East Asian counterparts to give their support in seeking the understanding of the ILO on this issue at the 89th ILC in June 2001.

35.     Finally, the ASEAN Labour Ministers sought the support of their East Asian counterparts for the candidature of the Philippines as President of the 89th ILC.

Acknowledgement

36.     The delegations of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam expressed their deep appreciation to the Government and the people of Malaysia 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. The delegations of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea similarly expressed their deep appreciation to the Government and people of Malaysia.

37.     The Ministers welcomed with appreciation the gracious offer by Lao PDR to host the 16th ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting in May 2002.

38.     The Meeting was held in the traditional spirit of ASEAN solidarity and cordiality.

ASEAN Labour Ministers and Counterparts from East Asia

From ASEAN:

Brunei Darussalam

H.E. Pehin Dato Isa bin Dato Ibrahim
Special Advisor to His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam in the Prime Minister’s Office and Minister of Home Affairs of Brunei Darussalam

Cambodia

H.E. Mr. Nim Thoth
Secretary of State of Social Affairs, Labour, Vocational Training and Youth Rehabilitation of the Kingdom of Cambodia

Indonesia

H.E. Mr. Ir. Alhilal Hamdi
Minister of Manpower and Transmigration of the Republic of Indonesia

Lao PDR

H.E. Mr. Somphanh Phengkhammy
Minister of Labour and Social Welfare of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Myanmar

H.E. Major-General Tin Ngwe
Minister of Labour of the Union of Myanmar

Philippines

H.E. Ms. Patricia A. Sto.Tomas
Secretary of Labour and Employment of the Republic of the Philippines

Singapore

H.E. Dr. Lee Boon Yang
Minister for Manpower of the Republic of Singapore

Thailand

H.E. Prof. Dej Boon-long
Minister of Labour and Social Welfare of Thailand

Vietnam

H.E. Mdm. Nguyen Thi Hang
Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Malaysia (Host)

H.E. Datuk Dr. Fong Chan Onn,
Minister for Human Resources of Malaysia

ASEAN Secretariat

Mr. Tran Duc Minh
Deputy Secretary-General

From East Asia:

People’s Republic of China

H.E. Mr. Wang Dong Jin
Vice-Minister
Ministry of Labour and Social Security
People’s Republic of China

Japan

H.E. Mdm. Chieko Nohno
Senior Vice-Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare

Republic of Korea

Mr. Chun Hae-Jin
Minister, Embassy of the Republic of Korea (representing the Minister of Labour)
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia