1. The Thirteenth ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting was convened from 14 to 15 May 1999, preceded by the ASEAN Senior Labour Officials Meeting held from 12 to 13 May 1999, and the Sixth Meeting of the ASEAN Sub-Committee on Labour Affairs held from 10 to 11 May 1999, in Yangon, Myanmar.
2. The Meeting was officially opened by His Excellency Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, Secretary (1) of the State Peace and Development Council of the Union of Myanmar. In his Keynote Speech, Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt welcomed all delegates from Member Countries, particularly from Cambodia which attended the Meeting for the first time as an ASEAN Member Country . He noted that it was a historic occasion for Myanmar as it was the first time for Myanmar to host an ASEAN Ministerial Meeting. He also noted that the 13th ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting (ALMM) was the first ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in which all ten Southeast Asian nations were represented as full ASEAN Members.
3. In recognising the fast-paced progress of globalisation, H.E. Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt stated that each region and country must try to develop its full potential if it is not to be marginalised. He also noted that the economic downturn experienced in the region had drawn forth pessimistic forecasts, but stated his confidence that the setback was temporary in nature and that signs of recovery were already emerging. He stressed, however, the importance of enhancing productivity and competitiveness. In this regard, the upgrading of human resources and the strengthening of capacities and skills of the labour force were of great importance.
4. H.E. Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt informed ASEAN Labour Ministers of the measures being taken at the national level for economic and social development, as well as the present efforts and initiatives of Myanmar in the field of labour at all levels. In this connection, he emphasised Myanmar’s full endorsement of the ASEAN position regarding the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Rights of Workers. He concluded by reiterating Myanmar’s commitment to work with fellow ASEAN Member Countries as well as the international community in bringing a better future not only for the labour sector, but for all citizens of the world.
5. The Meeting was attended by H.E. Pehin Dato Haji Isa Ibrahim, Minister of Home Affairs of Brunei Darussalam; H.E. Mr. Ith Sam Heng, Minister of Social Affairs, Labour, Vocational Training and Youth Rehabilitation of the Royal Government of Cambodia; Mr. Suwarto, Secretary General of the Department of Manpower of the Republic of Indonesia; H.E. Mr. Somphane 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. Major-General Tin Ngwe, Minister of Labour of the Union of Myanmar; H.E. Mr. Bienvenido E. Laguesma, Secretary of Labour and Employment of the Republic of the Philippines; H.E. Mr. Othman Haron Eusofe, Minister of State for Manpower of the Republic of Singapore; H.E. Mr. Sompong Amornvivat, 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 Viet Nam; H.E. Mr. Rodolfo C. Severino, Jr., Secretary-General of ASEAN, and their respective delegations.
6. The Ministers welcomed Cambodia who was attending the ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting for the first time as a full member of ASEAN.
7. His Excellency Major-General Tin Ngwe, Minister of Labour of the Union of Myanmar and His Excellency Mr. Bienvenido E. Laguesma, Secretary of Labour and Employment of the Philippines were unanimously elected Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Meeting, respectively.
8. As host of the 13th ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting, Major-General Tin Ngwe extended a warm welcome to the Ministers and their delegations, particularly to Cambodia which was attending the Meeting for the first time as a full member of ASEAN. He recalled the successive progress achieved by the ASEAN Labour Ministers since their first meeting in 1975, in working towards the realisation of the objectives to improve the social and economic conditions of workers in the region and to foster technical cooperation in the field of labour.
9. The Minister noted that with ASEAN Vision 2020 and the Hanoi Plan of Action, ASEAN now had a road map set to plan future development activities and to translate the vision of ASEAN Leaders into reality. He emphasised the importance of intensifying contacts and cooperation, thereby enhancing mutual understanding of the true situation prevailing in each Member Country, so as to strengthen ASEAN unity and solidarity in overcoming the challenges that lie ahead. Major-General Tin Ngwe also took the opportunity of the occasion to inform ASEAN Labour Ministers of Myanmar’s efforts in labour affairs, both at national and international fora. He concluded by expressing his confidence that the spirit of ASEAN solidarity and cordiality, as the driving force behind the success of ASEAN efforts for progress in labour and social fields, would also contribute to the accomplishment of the agenda of the 13th ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting.
The Sixth ASEAN Summit
10. The Ministers shared the concern of the Sixth ASEAN Summit that the financial crisis has a social dimension, with the poor and vulnerable segments of the Member Countries being the most adversely affected, and agreed that efforts to safeguard the interests of the poor should be an integral part of the recovery process. They also expressed strong support for the attention accorded to labour and employment issues in the Hanoi Declaration and the Hanoi Plan of Action adopted by the ASEAN Leaders at the Sixth ASEAN Summit held in Hanoi in December 1998.
11. They reiterated the Summit’s call for the maintenance and creation of employment as critical elements in economic recovery. In this connection, the Ministers emphasised the importance of continuous training and upgrading of the region’s workforce to meet the demands and opportunities of the labour markets of today and tomorrow. The Ministers observed that efforts to enhance the employability of workers have been an on-going concern of ASEAN cooperation in labour affairs.
12. The Ministers also noted that on-going ASEAN labour projects on informal sector development, human resources development planning, occupational safety and health and skills standards are in line with the priorities of the Hanoi Plan of Action, and will contribute towards alleviating unemployment as well as improve the quality of the region’s labour force, thus facilitating the region’s early recovery from the crisis.
Impact of the Crisis on Labour and Employment
13. The Ministers expressed their continued concern with the wide-ranging social impact of the financial and economic crisis in ASEAN, which had also adversely affected the labour and employment situation in the region. They reaffirmed the ASEAN Leaders’ commitment stated at the Sixth ASEAN Summit to safeguard the interests of the poor. The Ministers emphasised the importance of employment creation as a strategy for poverty alleviation.
14. The Ministers noted that the Asian financial and economic crisis had adversely affected, in varying degrees, the labour and employment situation among ASEAN Member Countries. They also noted the various measures undertaken by each Member Country in responding to the crisis. At the same time, they emphasised the importance of continuing action at the national and international levels in order for ASEAN to get back fully on the path of sustained development and growth.
15. The Ministers expressed appreciation to the ASEAN Secretariat for formulating an ASEAN programme to address the labour and employment impacts of the crisis, with the following elements:
sharing and exchange of experience and best practices in developing social protection and social security systems;
promoting tripartite cooperation through increased consultations among the social partners, in relation to economic restructuring including strengthening of tripartite institutions and mediation/ conciliation mechanisms; and
enhancing capacity for designing programmes or policies on employment generation, focusing on active labour market policies and re-training.
16. The Ministers emphasised the urgency of implementing the ASEAN work programme to address the labour and employment impact of the crisis but at the same time, expressed concern over the delay in the release of funds for this programme. Accordingly, the Ministers looked forward to the programme’s expeditious implementation. The Ministers noted that funding and technical assistance from various international donor institutions have become even more important to the Member Countries in view of the Asian financial and economic crisis. They requested the ASEAN Secretariat to explore alternative funding sources to implement the programme. At the same time, the Ministers encouraged Member Countries to consider cost-sharing arrangements to implement the programme.
ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and Its Follow-Up
17. On the ILO Declaration on the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work adopted at the 86th Session of the ILC in June 1998, the ASEAN Labour Ministers welcomed the decision and assurances by the ILO Director-General that the Declaration and its follow-up would be promotional in nature. This would be in line with the principle that member States are encouraged to respect the fundamental principles and rights at work. A promotional approach would enable member States to work towards the objectives of the Declaration, and this would, in the long term, lead to the eventual ratification of more conventions based on their respective stage of economic and social development.
18. The Ministers also welcomed the assurances given by the Governing Body of the ILO that the Declaration and its follow-up mechanism will not impose new obligations on member States nor will it lead to double-scrutiny of the situation.
19. The Ministers were also pleased to note that the ILO had set aside more resources for technical assistance to member States. This would help member states to enhance their capacity to make the necessary adjustments leading to the ratification and implementation of ILO core conventions.
Trade and Labour Standards
20. On the issue of labour standards and trade, the Ministers noted the decision of the WTO Ministerial Meeting held in Singapore in December 1996 and the ILO Declaration which stressed that labour standards should not be invoked for trade protectionist purposes. In this regard, the Ministers reiterated that the promotion of labour standards and workers’ rights should be the domain solely of the ILO and not of any other international body, and that the Declaration and its follow-up mechanism should not be used for trade protectionist purposes. It would therefore be unnecessary and inappropriate for other international bodies to discuss and include the promotion and compliance of core labour standards with the view to linking them with trade and non-labour related matters. The ILO, being the only tripartite international organisation with high-level representation from governments, employers and workers throughout the world, is the relevant body to promote and deal with issues relating to labour standards and workers’ rights.
21. In line with the efforts made by the new Director-General of ILO to restructure the ILO’s activities, the Ministers expressed their strong support and expectation that the ILO be further streamlined to make it more effective. Accordingly, more resources should be allocated to stimulate activities in the ASEAN region as well as in all ILO member States, by intensifying technical cooperation and assistance. The Ministers also urged the ILO to review the ILO Conventions, particularly the earlier ones, to better reflect the current social and economic conditions of all ILO member States.
Extreme Forms of Child Labour
22. The Ministers reiterated their position that ASEAN does not condone child labour, and emphasised that condemning child labour in any particular country or instituting sanctions-based measures would not solve the problem at its roots but would aggravate the situation instead. They also reiterated that the most important cause of child labour is poverty and that the best solution is to eradicate poverty by generating sustainable and gainful employment, expanding and improving the quality of basic education, training, and social services, as well as promoting and enhancing regional and international cooperation.
23. The Ministers welcomed in principle the proposed convention and a recommendation on “Child Labour” which called for the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour. The Ministers noted that “Child Labour” will be included in the Agenda of the 87th Session of the ILC, for its second discussion.
24. The Ministers noted the progress in the implementation of the ongoing ASEAN projects in the field of labour. They noted with appreciation the efforts made by Member Countries to accelerate the implementation of priority activities under the projects, ASEAN Occupational Safety and Health Network (ASEAN-OSHNET) andPromotion of Self-Employment and Development in the Informal Sector, which are part of the effort to address the concerns of the ASEAN Leaders regarding labour and employment matters.
25. The Ministers expressed appreciation to Thailand for agreeing to host the 3rdASEAN Skills Competition in December 2000, and also to Indonesia for offering to host the 4th ASEAN Skills Competition in the year 2001. The Ministers observed that the skills competitions will promote the mutual recognition of skills standards in ASEAN, and therefore are in line with the Hanoi Plan of Action priority area on promoting “regional mobility and mutual recognition of technical and professional credentials and skills standards”.
26. Noting that the projects, ASEAN Project on Human Resource Development Planning and ASEAN Programme on Industrial Relations, address issues pertinent to strategies for promoting employment in the recovery process, the Ministers called for the speedy implementation of the projects. In this regard, the Ministers urged the UNDP and the ILO to consider urgent measures to implement the ASEAN Project on Human Resource Development Planning without delay. With respect to the project,ASEAN Programme on Industrial Relations, the Ministers urged the ILO to expedite preparations to implement the project.
27. The Ministers expressed deep appreciation to the Central Officials Training Institute of the Republic of Korea (ROK) for proposing to implement a fourth phase of the project Human Resources Development Programme for Officials of ASEAN Countries, for funding under the ASEAN-ROK Special Cooperation Fund. They noted that previous phases of the programme have promoted the exchange of experiences on human resources development between ASEAN and ROK officials and that the focus of this year’s programme on the ROK’s response to the impact of the financial crisis on human resources development matters would especially benefit ASEAN officials.
28. The delegations of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam expressed their deep appreciation to the Government and the people of the Union of Myanmar 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.
29. The Ministers welcomed with appreciation the Philippine’s gracious offer to host the 14th ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting in the Philippines in May 2000.
30. The Meeting was held in the tradition of ASEAN cordiality and solidarity.