APRFSD 2019 : Severe decent work deficits undermine Asia-Pacific’s SDG performance

A delegation of the International Trade Union Confederation - Asia Pacific (ITUC AP) participated in the Asia-Pacific Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (APRFSD) on 27-29 March 2019 in Bangkok, Thailand. The event was a unique occasion for trade unions to sit around the table with governments and other stakeholders of the region and present the labour movement’s views on Asia-Pacific’s progress towards fulfilling the objectives of the 2030 Agenda.

A delegation of the ITUC-AP participated in this year’s edition of the APRFSD. The delegation included six persons coming from INTUC India, KSBSI Indonesia, FTUC Fiji, FFW Philippines and secretariats of the ITUC AP and the ITUC. They brought to the discussions trade unions’ main findings and key demands resulting from their assessment of how governments of the region are approaching their commitment to deliver on the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and what they have achieved so far.

Trade union position on development

In its statement, the delegation depicts a dire reality the labour movement in Asia and the Pacific is facing. With an almost inexistant political will to allow trade union’s participation in the discussions on the national plan towards the 2030 Agenda, the majority of governments in the region are failing to integrate decent work in these plans, worsening the ongoing trend of shrinking space for trade unions and workers in Asia and the Pacific.

The delegation warned that the situation of the region will not improve if governments do not ratify and implement internationally recognised core labour standards and fail to institutionalise and operationalise social dialogue at all levels to ensure the successful implementation of the SDGs.

We recognise that it is imperative for governments, within social dialogue, to design and implement Universal Labour Guarantee, as recommended by the ILO on its report, including fundamental workers’ rights, an adequate living wage, limits on hours of work and ensuring safe and healthy workplaces for all workers.

- Francis Kim Upgi, ITUC AP

The delegation made a thorough assessment of the progress done - or lack thereof – towards achieving the SDGs 8 (decent work and sustainable growth), 13 (climate action), 10 (reduced inequalities), 5 (gender equality), 4 (education) as well as 16 and 17 (peace, justice and strong institutions, and partnerships for the goals, respectively).

On SDG 16 and 17, the delegation denounced the continuous repression of trade unions in the region and the unwillingness to promote social dialogue as an institution to ensure democratic governance steered by sustainability, inclusiveness, accountability and transparency.

The reference to SDG4 links to Goal 8, 10 and 1. It touches upon education as a basic human right as well as a public good, which will foster attitudes and skills that lead to sustainable and inclusive growth. For trade unions, it is central to include workers’ education in this section. Especially regarding education about labour rights and as an opportunity to grow as professionals.

The role of trade unions and the importance of collective bargaining as a means to redress inequality lies at the heart of the chapter of the statement dedicated to Goal 10 and its connections to Goal 8 and 5.

Regarding climate action (SDG 13), the delegation focusses on the importance of investing in a Just Transition of the workforce with the creation of decent and green jobs as a central part of the necessary shift towards zero-emission economy.

UNESCAP included in its oficial report of the APRFSD most of the concerns that the delegation raised


SDG 8 - Decent work deficits in Asia and the Pacific

Regarding SDG 8, the delegation centered its message on a call to regional governments to put an end to the exclusive manner in which they conduct policies in the region. This situation is fueling the significant underperformance the region is delivering on SDG8.

The delegation denounced the “persistently high decent work deficits” workers in the region suffer from. The fact that trade union density in Asia and the Pacific is one of the lowest in the world reflects this situation. The delegates also stressed the unacceptable situation of the continuous violation of workers’ human and fundamental rights and the failure of regional governments to establish in law and practice trade unions’ right to engage in bargaining negotiations and strike.

Almost 70 per cent of workers are in the informal economy, working cannot free 400 million working people from poverty, half of all the workers in the region suffer from excessive working hours, more than 1 million workers are killed every year by occupational accidents or work-related diseases.

- Julius Cainglet

To address this situation, the delegation urged national governments to implement, within social dialogue, a Universal Labour Guarantee that includes fundamental workers’ rights, adequate living wages, limitation of working hours, safe and healthy workplaces, and that will ensure an “inclusive and brighter future of work”.


Cooperating with CSO

ITUC-AP cooperated with the over 100 CSOs and activists who participated in the APRFSD. They all gathered through the platform of the Asia Pacific Regional CSO Mechanism (AP-RCEM). Their collaboration crystalised in a joint press release calling for development justice in Asia and the Pacific.

In the release, the platform denounces as series of systemic issues from which workers in particular and the population of the region in general are suffering, such as promoting unsustainable, neoliberal development models that enable corporations to capture and plunder the people of the region from their natural resources at the cost of continuous violations of their rights.

"This year’s theme of empowering people is greatly hinged on recognising freedom of association…It is unacceptable that workers strikes are dispersed violently and trade union leaders get jailed on trumped up charges or are killed. Our voices need to be heard in an environment where we are treated as co-equals by the state that does not bow down to corporate power," Julius Cainglet (Vice President of the FFW and ITUC-AP delegate) in the press-release.

In addition, and in line with trade unions’ demands, the RCEM statement points out the lack of institutional space for civil society involvement in crafting and implementing the national plans to achieve the SDGs as a central obstacle towards true people empowerment in Asia and the Pacific.


About the APRFSD

The APRFSD is organised by the United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP). The forum is part of a series of regional forums that take place around the world. The outcomes from these regional forums will feed into the discussions and negotiations that will take place at the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in July and September 2019.

During the process leading to the HLPF, trade unions produce shadow reports on their governments’ progress towards achieving the SDGs and their level of inclusion of trade unions in the process. The ITUC compiles these reports into a global report entitled “A Trade Union Take on the SDGs”, which is presented at the HLPF.