Monday 25 June 2012

Speech at the Opening of the 22nd ASEAN and ASEAN Plus three Labor Ministerial Meeting, and Related Meetings, under the topic of “Improving Social Protection and Skills Development”

Source: Cambodia New Vision (CNV)
Speech at the Opening of the 22nd ASEAN and ASEAN Plus three Labor Ministerial Meeting, and Related Meetings, under the topic of “Improving Social Protection and Skills Development”
Phnom Penh, 10 May 2012

Excellencies, Labor Ministers of ASEAN and Partner Counties,
Excellency, Secretary General of the ASEAN,
Excellency, Director General of International Labor Organization, 
Excellencies, Ambassadors to the Kingdom of Cambodia,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

It is my great pleasure to officiate the opening of the 22nd ASEAN and ASEAN Plus three Labor Ministerial Meeting, and related meetings being held in Phnom Penh capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia. This meeting is very meaningful for Cambodia, other ASEAN countries and ASEAN Plus 3 to review the progress of cooperation and setting future direction to further strengthen our integration and jointly address challenges we are facing. 

On behalf of the Royal Government and people of Cambodia, I would like to extend our warmest welcome to delegates from ASEAN and development partners, who participate in this important meeting. Your presence clearly indicates the strong bonds of friendship and cooperation among ASEAN and we will continue to work closely together. I am of the view that this meeting will contribute to promoting ASEAN Plus Three countries to continue their endless efforts and responsibilities to realize the success of ASEAN integration, which is our common goal of creating ASEAN community in 2015. Indeed, this work will help promote more growth and strengthen friendship bonds among ASEAN and ASEAN Plus Three countries. 

Taking this opportunity, I would like to give my full support to and highly value the topic of “Improving Social Protection and Skills Development”, which is one of the important topics that ASEAN member countries have been making effort to address in order to develop the society of ASEAN and ASEAN Plus Three countries. Overall, the topic will enable ASEAN to strengthen its mechanisms that are based on “People-Centered Community” and strengthen our common spirit which is ”ASEAN: One Community, One Destiny”, which was adopted in the 20th ASEAN Summit.

Indeed, the selection of “Improving Social Protection and Skills Development” as the topic for this ASEAN Ministerial meeting reflects our particular attention on social protection, strengthening of social safety nets that are key factors for enhancing social welfare and sustainable socio-economic development. In other words, this initiative will not only contribute to strengthening social safety nets in the context of poverty reduction, but also to strengthening social protection systems in the context of global economy which requires knowledge and high level of skills.

As you all are aware that Cambodia hosted the 20th ASEAN Summit in April. I am pleased to see that all ASEAN member countries work together to strengthen the spirit of solidarity and sharing and to deepen cooperation which results in numerous initiatives and cooperative projects being discussed and adopted. Based on this along with the region’s quick post-crisis recovery, it is a great opportunity for ASEAN and ASEAN Plus Three countries to further strengthen cooperation and deepen regional integration of financial, trade, investment, agriculture, tourism, education and public health sectors as well as the connectivity of physical infrastructure. Therefore, we have to continue our dialogue to bring about the enhancement of social protection and skills development for our work forces.
In this regard, please allow me to share humble views on the issue as follows:

First - Social protection is an important factor of development strategies and poverty reduction policies. Therefore, we have to pay high attention to providing better services to the poor by specifically enhancing the effectiveness of social protection mechanisms to enable the poor and vulnerable groups build their own resources which are critical factors for rescuing themselves and their families from poverty trap and ensuring sustainability. To achieve that, we should attach highest priority to the goal of creating the ASEAN Economic Community, which is to transform ASEAN into a single market and production base characterized by free flow of goods, services, investment, and skilled labor. We must seek ways to lay out priority actions and key concrete measures to address this challenge and bridge gaps which are the obstacles to the realization of ASEAN Economic Community as planned. 

Second - In order to achieve the aforementioned goals, member countries need to have proper work programs for promoting incomes and capabilities of poor communities, and they also must accelerate their work to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for 2015. Important tasks that must be achieved include the promotion of participation of community members, including the poor, women, ethnic minority communities and the like so that they can involve with the development process, the promotion of institutional capability of local communities, the enhancement of capability and ability of local communities and local authorities as well as local development partners in reducing poverty with ownership and responsibility. 

Third - We need to continue paying attention to the social protection system that covers workers and employees, especially the old, the disabled, those injured at work, women on maternity leave and other health-related problems at workplaces. Programs designed to address unemployment should also be included in the social protection system. 

Forth - With regard to skills development, I would like to direct the attention of all the participants to the fact that each individual country is preparing themselves for the regional and global integration characterized by fierce competition, and the key determinant is the capable human resources. Hence, we need to ensure that our workforces always possess sufficient capability for job opportunities that require new skills and respond to global labor demand, so that they are able to compete in the  labor market characterized by the free flow of skilled labor in the region by 2015. 

Fifth - Regarding the strengthening of competitiveness of each ASEAN member country, human resources have played an important role in setting directions for the socio-economic development. Hence, with an abundant labor force of about 285 million workers, ASEAN need to acknowledge the importance of job creations, the development of labor force’s quality, and the provision of social safety nets to employees. In general, the direction of ASEAN’s work on labor and human resources has been set by the work program of ASEAN labor ministers since 2000. This work program provides a framework for the preparation of the regional labor force to deal with challenges arising from globalization and trade liberalization. We all are aware that this work program initially has 5 priorities, including employment generation, labor market surveillance, labor force movement, social protection and tripartite cooperation, followed by the sixth priority agreed by ASEAN labor ministers in 2006, which is health and workplace’s sanitation.

Sixth - In addition to all these priorities, ASEAN need to continue finding solutions to migrant worker issues, that was already prepared on 13th January 2007. ASEAN leaders have signed the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. A Committee has been established to operationalize this declaration. Its first meeting was convened in September 2008, followed by many subsequent meetings. Hence, this Committee should accelerate the preparation of the draft of ASEAN’s instruments on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers, the issue which was first discussed in April 2009 in Bangkok. 

Truly, the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers is an important issue for ASEAN because the free flow of skilled labor is a primary characteristic of the ASEAN Economic Community. Although this goal has not been fully achieved, mutual exchange of labor force among ASEAN countries has been robustly taking place. In fact, under the framework of ASEAN, some countries import workers while some others export workers, including Cambodia. This emphasizes the necessity for strengthening cooperation among ASEAN countries in order to protect the rights of migrant workers. With respect to this problem, we should take note that ASEAN has already done some of the tasks but it is yet to achieve a proper agreement for the implementation.
In general, although the economic integration focuses on the flow of skilled labor, but the real challenge is the protection of the rights of unskilled or low-skilled workers. Hence, we should push hard for the protection of the rights of migrant workers to correspond to the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration which is to be adopted in 2012. More importantly, Cambodia would like to request all the member countries to adhere to the principles of laws and human rights by strictly avoiding insulting lives or causing difficulties for migrant workers. 

With respect to what I have raised above, I believe that we all will continue strengthening and expanding our firm cooperation and commitment in order to achieve common economic growth and build“A People-Centered Community” which is in line with the theme of “ASEAN: One Community, One Destiny”, chosen for ASEAN 2012 to highlight the commitment and cooperation of ASEAN nations in building ASEAN Community as a closely-bonded family with political, security, economic and socio-cultural harmonization which is rule-based, peaceful and economically strong through improving social protection and skills development.

Obviously, the promotion of social protection requires not only concrete mechanism and guidelines, but also adequate capital. However, funding for the task depends on development pace of all member states.  But, in the context of current and future globalized economy, the economic growth of each member state will be determined by its workforce productivity with proper qualification and high producing capacity. Therefore, there is no doubt that once adequate social protection fund is secured, capacity building or skills development will be upgraded.

Based on its experiences, Cambodia took concrete actions to respond to the global economic and financial turmoil by proactively mitigating a number of risks and uncertainties such as the change of demand for skill levels and upgrade of skills through training vocational and life skills that are an important part of the social safety nets. From this point, we could conclude that, no matter how bad the situation is, we must be able to control economic pulses and manage priorities, which is the necessary philosophy for progress in national socio-economic development.

Therefore, we could see clearly that training of the right skills or skills development and promotion of social protection effectively complement each other and cannot be separated. In this sense, I would like to request Excellecies, ladies and gentlemen to have in-depth and comprehensive discussion to seek key solutions for enhancing social protection and skills development to an appropriate level to enable full participation in the ASEAN integration in 2015. I am confident that 22nd ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting (LMM), ASEAN+3 and related meetings will achieve great success and become a forum of solidarity, friendship and close cooperation. 

At the end, I would like to wish Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen,  all delegates from ASEAN and partner countries good health and success in all tasks, and especially good experience during the stay in the Kingdom of Cambodia, land of the magnificent Angkor. 

Now, May I declare the opening of the  22nd ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting (LMM), ASEAN+3 and related meetings.

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