1. The Special ASEAN + 3 Senior Labour Officials Meeting (SLOM) on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was convened from 2 to 3 July 2003 in Makati, Metro Manila, the Philippines, pursuant to the call by the 17th ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting held on 8 May 2003, and the ASEAN+3 Labour Ministers Meeting held on 9 May 2003 in Mataram, Indonesia, to follow up to the labour-related decisions of the Special ASEAN Leaders Meeting and the Special ASEAN-China Leaders Meeting on SARS held in Bangkok, Thailand on 29 April 2003.
2. The Meeting was attended by the Senior Labour Officials or their representatives heading tripartite delegations from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. The ASEAN Secretariat and resource persons from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) were also in attendance.
3. Hon. Manuel G. Imson, Acting Secretary of Labor and Employment of the Philippines, in his keynote message to the Meeting, noted that ASEAN with the participation of Japan, Korea and China was the first region to mount a region-wide response to the SARS, which resulted to the effective containment of the disease. At the same time, the Acting Secretary acknowledged that its impact on labour and employment is now beginning to be felt in the region. The Special Meeting therefore was tasked to analyse these impacts and identify possible measures that would prevent the spread of SARS in the future. The Acting Secretary also requested the ASEAN+3 Senior Labour Officials to take into consideration the vulnerability of migrant workers to SARS especially those who work as doctors, nurses, and medical technologists, among others.
4. The agenda of the Special ASEAN+3 SLOM on SARS included extensive discussions on addressing the impact of SARS on labour, employment, human resources and occupational safety and health, including the role of the social partners in easing the impact on retrenchments, unemployment and workers’ protection. Resource persons from the WHO, ILO and ADB also provided updates on the respective measures undertaken by these agencies to address SARS and its multifaceted impact on the region.
5. The Meeting noted with interest the following concrete measures undertaken by the ASEAN+3 countries to combat SARS at the national and regional levels:
- Measures to protect public health in general and healthcare and vulnerable workers in particular through appropriate strategies of detection, isolation and containment of SARS;
- Provision of timely and accurate information on SARS;
- Collaborative government and private sector response including developing a network of partners within each country and among the ASEAN +3 countries to prevent SARS transmission;
- Provision of social protection strategies to displaced workers such as insurance and pension schemes and income support and emergency job creation including compensation packages for SARS affected individuals and industries; and
- Advocate tripartism as a mechanism to respond to preserve employment, issues on safety and health, migrant workers and other socio-economic concerns regarding SARS.
6. The Meeting commended Singapore, the Philippines, Viet Nam and China for their strong commitment to prevent and control the spread of SARS, and the comprehensive measures undertaken to mitigate its impact. The Meeting also acknowledged the efforts of the other ASEAN+3 countries to contain the spread of SARS in the region.
Update on the Implementation of the Summit and Ministerial Directives on SARS
7. The Meeting noted the progress in the implementation of the directives contained in the Joint Declaration of the Special ASEAN Leaders Meeting on SARS held on 29 May 2003 in Bangkok, Thailand, and the Joint Statement of the Special ASEAN-China Leaders Meeting on SARS also held on 29 April 2003 in Bangkok, Thailand. The Meeting noted that several important initiatives had been implemented, including the establishment of multi-sectoral task forces at the national level, and also that a number of high-level ASEAN and ASEAN+3 meetings including health, transport, tourism, information, as well as labour, have addressed the SARS issue following the Special ASEAN Leaders Summit on SARS and the Special ASEAN-China Leaders Meeting on SARS.
8. In this regard, the Meeting welcomed the Joint Statement of the Special ASEAN + 3 Health Ministers Meeting on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) held from 10 to 11 June 2003 in Siem Reap, Cambodia, which had stated that the last SARS case had been isolated in the region on 11 May 2003; since then the region had been free of local transmission and hence ASEAN is a SARS-free region.
Initiatives to Address the Emerging Challenges
9. Notwithstanding the progress made in curbing the spread of SARS, the Meeting noted the need for sustained joint initiatives among the ASEAN+3 countries to effectively address the employment challenges of SARS, including minimising job losses and the threat to occupational safety and health, to ensure continued progress of economies in the region. The Meeting underscored the need for measures to combat the rise in unemployment and underemployment, and the social protection needs of the region’s workers arising from the SARS challenge.
10. The Meeting recognised the importance of maintaining employment, ensuring the stable livelihood for workers directly and indirectly affected by SARS; and having dialogue among social partners to minimise retrenchments and assist workers in case of redundancies.
11. The Meeting affirmed its commitment to address the labour-related impact of SARS, taking into consideration domestic situation and practices, laws and health systems, in particular, the following:
- Maintain high levels of vigilance in the area of occupational safety and health, and develop national and regional policies on SARS prevention and control at the workplace through tripartite efforts;
- Welcome the practice that migrant workers infected with SARS have the same access to medical facilities as the host country nationals and that their terms and conditions of employment are safeguarded;
- Include the monitoring of the labour impact of SARS on the agenda of the ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting (ALMM), the ALMM+3, the ASEAN Senior Labour Officials Meeting (SLOM), the SLOM+3, and the ASEAN Occupational Safety and Health (ASEAN-OSHNET) Coordinating Board Meeting; and
- Enjoin the WHO and the ILO to formulate a consensus statement on SARS prevention at the workplace along the lines of their statement in 1988 on HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.
12. The Meeting requested the WHO to take into consideration the cultural and religious aspects in treating the deceased due to SARS, notwithstanding public health concerns.
13. The Meeting agreed that ASEAN Member Countries shall consider coordinating and implementing priority activities on a cost-sharing basis, in the spirit of solidarity. The Meeting also agreed to explore with ASEAN’s other Dialogue Partners, the ILO and other international and regional organisations, the possibilities of mobilising financial, human resources and technical support for ASEAN’s initiatives to address the labour and employment impact of SARS. The Meeting welcomed with appreciation the expression of interest by the ADB to explore possibilities of future cooperation with the ASEAN-OSHNET to address SARS-related measures, among others.
14. The delegations of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Thailand expressed their deep appreciation to the government and people of the Philippines, in particular the Department of Labour and Employment, for the generous hospitality extended to the delegates and the excellent arrangements made for the meeting. The Meeting also registered their appreciation to the ASEAN Secretariat for its contributions to the Meeting.