Asian labor, employers skeptical of dialog’s effectiveness

Published by rudy Date posted on July 5, 2008

BRUSSELS — Trade unionists and employers associations from developing Asian countries expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of social dialogues with developed European countries in settling industrial disputes and creating decent work for all, saying economic, political and social disparities were the main stumbling blocks.

Speaking at the first-ever Asian-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Social Partners Forum (ASPF) here on Monday, trade unionists from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and India said that despite a series of ILO convention-based ASEM agreements and initiatives, the European Union has yet to show its commitment to encourage Asian partners to make sound regulations to create decent work for all.

They also said most multinational corporations in the region had not shown any commitment to complying with international core labor standards and local laws.
Abdul Halim bin Mansor of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC), said Asian social partners principally had no problems giving constructive contributions to such social dialogues, but following a series of preparatory meetings and ministerial meeting both in Asia and Europe, the concept and initiatives were found to be good on paper but not implemented in the field.

“The social dialogue is found unequal with EU having implemented for decades the international core labor standards in their industrial relations, mainly in their remuneration system and social security protection, but failing to do so in Asian countries.

“We need no industrial relations but a rapid economic growth to catch up with Europe. Europe should introduce any economic and industrial relations models from any of its member countries but bring its Asian partners to create sound laws and regulations to create decent work for all in the region,” he said.

Up to 200 trade unionists and employers from Asia and Europe held their first-ever informal gathering here on Monday to seek an equal social dialogue in their joint efforts to create decent work for all.

The two-day event, organized by the European Commission and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), was held at the recommendation of the preparatory meeting for the second ASEM labor ministerial meeting in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in September 2007.
So far, the ASEM summit has been held six times, with the sixth in Helsinki on September 3-5, 2006, recommending the intensification of Asia-Europe ties and an enhanced interaction in all major areas of cooperation. All heads of states highlighted the importance of the first labor and manpower ministerial meeting in Postdam, Germany, on September 10-11, 2006, on joint efforts to strengthen the social dimensions of globalization.

Chairman of the Confederation of Indonesian prosperous Labor Union, Rekson Silaban, questioned the effectiveness of the capitalism-linked market economy which he said had brought economic hardship to Asian countries, including Indonesia.

He said many trade unions in Asia had been allergic to social dialogue in settling labor disputes partly because multinational corporations had infringed international core labor standards and bought government approval in dealing with their local partners.

“The multinational corporations have indirectly contributed to the unemployment and poverty affecting a bigger part of the Asian population. We need an alternative economic model to repair this condition,” he said.

He cited giant mining companies and international food and shopping investors operating in Indonesia for failing to implement international labor standards on their own workers and local partners.

“McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken have recruited students as part-time workers to press down their labor costs while Carrefour pays low-ranking workers under regional minimum wages,” he said.

Asian employers associations called on European countries to give equal chances and treatment for Asian employers to invest in the region.

Abdul Wahab Abu Bakar, representing the Malaysian Employers Federation, and the chairman of the Indian Employers Federation, Sharad S. Patil, said leading Asian metal and IT companies have been apparently “prevented” by irrational investment conditions from investing in Europe.

“We are disappointed with the absence of European employers federations in this important forum. We need them as our social partners on how to create a common conducive investment climate in the two regions,” Patil said.

European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Vlamidir Spidla and Indonesian Ambassador to Belgium, Luxemburg and the European Union, Najib Riphat Kesoema, in their opening addresses, placed strong emphasis on ASEM’s importance to intensify social dialogue in the future to narrow the widening social disparity between the two regions.

Spidla said the two regions had a great chance to enhance cooperation in numerous issues in the labor sector to make globalization a success for workers and employers in the two regions.

Najib said social dialogue would benefit Asian countries only if the European Union showed its commitment to providing training programs to improve workers’ competence in Asia and give equal opportunity for Asian workers to seek jobs in Europe.

Peter Mayer, an expert at the University of Applied Sciences in Osnabruck, Germany, called on social partners from the two regions to develop the ASEM social dimension as their own contribution to globalization.

“ASEM can influence globalization since it represents 50 percent of world GDP and 60 percent of world trade. The ASEM summit is not only characterized by its growing number of members but also requires better regulations. The lack of sound regulation of financial markets creates serious social problems,” he said. –The Jakarta Post-ANN

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