How can industrial policies bring us a step closer towards decent work for all? With this ambitious question in mind, around 40 trade unionists from 12 countries came together in Singapore to analyse the merits of different industrial policies for workers. The workshop titled “Decent Work for All: Industrial Policy for Economic and Social Upgrading” was jointly organized by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES).
In his opening remarks Mirco Günter, Director of the FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia, pointed to the persistent need to push for better protection of labour standards, affirming, “power imbalance dictated by multi-national corporations, hyper-competitive price pressure among producers and continuing drop in import prices paid for apparel in the garment, footwear and electronics sector have demoted workers’ rights in the past decades.”
The conference furthermore served as a forum to discuss the first results of the country studies that the FES regional project “Core Labour Standards Plus (CLS+)” commissioned in order to identify the impacts of the industrial policies in the context of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea and the Philippines. Jointly with the authors, Professor Hansjörg Herr and Dr. Petra Dünhaupt from the Berlin School of Economics and Law discussed principles of industrial policy and which kinds of policies are best suited to promote economic and social development. Countries should develop a clear vision and more concretely develop technology clusters and have an eye on favourable financing prospects.
A regional comparative study conducted earlier under the CLS+ Project in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan, and Vietnam recently identified the labour market problems that are rooted in inadequate or absent protection of workers rights.
Weakened worker protection often follows industrial policies that don’t include the dimension of social upgrading. To achieve decent work for all CLS+ provides a set of policy recommendations, including aligning labour laws with international standards, linking trade agreements to labour rights promotion, upholding responsibility in supply chains and strengthening regulation, and enforcement. These practices should be accompanied by improved governance structures such as strengthening the trade union movement and with that increasing national negotiation capacities.
Furthermore, union leaders identified six areas of action that are essential to achieving decent work for all: strong collective bargaining at sectoral as well as regional levels, inclusive organising, enhanced social dialogue at all levels with voices of marginalised workers being represented, capacity building of trade unionists, and pro-labour institutional and legislative reforms aimed at supporting a comprehensive industrial policy across sectors and industries.
In his closing remarks Shoya Yoshida, General Secretary of the ITUC Asia-Pacific pointed out that the region -- though making significant progress in most SDGs -- is facing regress since 2000 in the field of responsible production and consumption. Presenting the diverse and differentiated circumstances in the Asia-Pacific Region, he advocated for tailored regional and national campaigns for legislation and strong labour inspections to expand the coverage of minimum wages and its compliance as well as to regulate working hours as a means for progress.
For more information about the regional work by FES on trade, labour and social dialogue contact the Singapore-based FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia and follow the facebook page for regular updates.
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