The Asian region is said to be on the cusp of a golden age. The region is poised to become the world’s dominant economic power in a decade or so. According to the Bloomberg survey of economists, of the 20 fastest growing economies forecasted in 2015 and 2016, nine are in Asia, namely (and with their corresponding rank): China (1); the Philippines (2); India (4); Indonesia (5); Malaysia (7); Thailand (9); Taiwan (14); South Korea (16); and Singapore (20). In fact, the economies of China, the Philippines, India and Indonesia, plus Kenya, are expected to grow more than five percent in 2015.
However, despite the phenomenal economic growth in these Asian countries over the last five years or so, poverty and inequality still persist. Using the ILO inequality scenario in terms of gini coefficient, the nine fastest growing Asian economies are classified between the high inequality and extreme inequality scenarios. In fact, in recent years, inequality is rising in some of these countries (i.e., Indonesia, India, and Singapore).
While a host of factors is associated with the rise of inequality, precarious work contributes and goes hand in hand with rising inequality. This has been one of the key findings of the ILO in its newly-released World Employment Social Outlook—nonstandard forms of employment may be fuelling income inequalities as temporary and informal workers, part-time workers, and unpaid family workers, many of whom are women, are also disproportionately affected by poverty and social exclusion.
The current processes of neoliberal economic growth in the Asian region, predicated by free trade and investment agreements and driven by transnational corporations and big businesses, have resulted in the precarization of work. Flexible production systems and workplaces require a flexible workforce. But this flexibility has resulted in the rise of non-standard forms of employment which are largely precarious— insecure jobs, unstable and low incomes, inadequate or lack of social protection, lack of opportunities for skills development and career advancement, and absence of representation and voice. Also, differentiating workers by the nature of their employment is a recipe for the further fragmentation of the working class.
Rising inequalities between and among countries in the region also engender increased labour migration between the industrializing and investment-rich countries (i.e. Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, etc.) and the developing and capital-starved economies (i.e. the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar, etc.). The demand for labour from more affluent countries in the region draws the employable army of workers from poorer countries that are unable to provide full employment. However, the flow of migrant workers within the region is fraught with tensions. Most often, destination countries have no sophisticated migration policy, except that they need workers but don’t want them to stay. Sending countries have yet to perfect its responses to the rampant flow of undocumented and vulnerable migrant workers bereft of labour rights and protection in host countries. Considered the hyper-precarious workers in the current neoliberal capitalist processes, migrant workers are increasingly commodified, dislocated, and deportable. This is not surprising given the global trend towards neoliberal capitalism expressing its most exploitative form of primitive accumulation as it reconfigures the flow and spaces of capital, producing precarious workers along the way. According to the ILO, the Asian region has the second largest migrant labour after Europe; about 21 million people move across borders in the Asian region. Yet it is here where enforcement of labour and human rights is most challenging.
Thus, despite booming economies for the most part of Asia, people continue experiencing rising joblessness and insecurity, increasing poverty and vulnerability, and rampant inequalities.Yet, the commitments of Asian governments to decent work and social protection remain lukewarm at best. In large measure,economic growth in most of Asia is far from equitable and inclusive.
These are critical times for trade unions and other social movements to push for a strong labour and social dimension in the current process of economic development taking place in the Asia-Pacific region. In ASEAN, for example, a recent initiative to push for an Agenda for a Social ASEAN has been taken up by trade unions, labour support organizations, civil society organizations and progressive academics.
Against this backdrop, holding a regional workshop of alumni of the Global Labour University is timely and relevant. The workshop is envisaged to serve as a venue for trade unionists, labour activists, and labour scholars to discuss the critical role in the Asia (and Australia) of trade unions and mass-based organizations in confronting and combating precarious work and the continuing clamour for decent work and social protection for all. Further, through the workshop, the GLU alumni from Asia and Australia will have the opportunity to learn from experts, improve their skills, as well as exchange ideas, experiences and strategies among themselves on important and key issues currently affecting workers in the Asia-Pacific region.
There are four major tracks of the workshop:
- Global value chains, international trade and investment agreements and the rise of low productivity jobs and precarious work in Asia
- The role of labour market institutions and trade unions in wage development and in arresting the rise of precarious employment
- The role of minimum wages in economic and social development and the campaign for a national minimum and living wage and social protection for all
- Transnational labour migration in the Asia Pacific Region: Issues, challenges and strategies in building cross-border solidarities
The workshop is a collaborative project of the following institutions:
- Global Labour University (GLU)
- University of the Philippines School of Labor and Industrial Relations (U.P. SOLAIR)
- University of Kassel (UniKassel)
- International Center for Development and Decent Work (ICDD)
- International Labour Organization (ILO)
- Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD)
- Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES)
Prof. Dr. Christoph Scherrer – Overall supervision, UniKassel-ICDD
Dr. Frank Hoffer – ILO
Dr. Alexander Gallas – UniKassel
Prof. Dr. Hansjörg Herr – Berlin School of Economics and Law
Simone Buckel UniKassel-ICDD
Dagmar Hetterscheidt UniKassel-ICDD
Verna Dinah Viajar UniKassel-ICDD
Indah Budiarti – Photo documentor
Dr. Melisa R. Serrano Chairperson
Vera Eileen V. Pupos Workshop co-coordination
Rowena Melican Administrative support
Jerowin Valenzuela Administrative support