MANILA, Philippines – 10 Feb 2017 – The Asean Trade Union Council (ATUC) announced today that it has published a new report, “Strengthening and Harmonizing Labour Standards in ASEAN: A Framework for Union Advocacy.” The report highlights the need for harmonization of labour standards as requirement for better ASEAN integration.

“In spite of rapid growth in ASEAN, we have yet to become truly inclusive in the field of labour,” said ATUC General Secretary Ruben Torres. “A broader policy and regulatory framework for compliance with fundamental labour standards is needed to help ensure that the benefits of growth are shared by all, including workers and their families.”

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is the regional economic, political and security cooperation group that includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The report found that the member states have disparate national labour laws, and need to evolve a collective, regional and rights-based labour governance system to harmonize and make these laws congruent over time. A system of this kind is needed in order to realize integration envisioned for the One ASEAN Community.

“The basis of harmonization should be UN human rights instruments affecting labour and international labour standards (ILS) embodied in ILO conventions and other instruments,” Torres added. Member States have their own laws on key policy areas of wage, working time, occupational safety and health (OSH), social security and maternity protection, equality of opportunity and non-discrimination, and freedom of association (FoA) and collective bargaining (CB). These national laws have distinctive characteristics and contexts, as well as substantive similarities.

The report recommends that a strengthened and harmonized regional system should be premised on an affirmation of ILS concepts and principles. Law reforms and strengthening of administrative capacities to implement and enforce laws will be key elements. The report’s substantive issues called for attention include:

  • Countries must aim to eliminate the exclusionary and discriminatory characteristics of wage laws and promote effective tripartite participation in the wage-fixing process.
  • ASEAN member states should address the issue of long, excessive and unpaid hours, with special attention paid to special concerns, such as part-time work, flexi-time, shift work, night work and work of pregnant women.
  • Member States should continue national occupational safety and health (OSH) programmes and at the same time start developing a regional policy on safety and health, using the relevant ILO conventions as benchmarks.
  • Equality and non-discrimination principles should be continuously embedded in laws and practices on wages, hours of work and social protection; at the same time, legislation should explicitly recognize protected characteristics and prescribe sanctions against all acts of discrimination.
  • Regarding freedom of association (FoA) and collective bargaining (CB), member states should affirm and protect the free and independent exercise of Trade Unionism (TU) and CB rights within and across borders. They also need to remove undue distinctions and restrictions in their exercise, provide protection against interference, anti-union discrimination and unfair labour practices. The objective should be to facilitate recognition and representation of unions to enable them to exercise full CB rights. Further, there must be coordinated regional action calling on concerned ASEAN governments to resolve all issues on killings, disappearances, acts of violence and threats against trade unionists.

“Harmonization initiatives should be underpinned by a strong commitment to social dialogue and tripartism at the highest national and regional policy-making bodies on labour matters,” Torres concluded.

To access the complete report, visit http://aseantuc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/atuc-asean-labor-standards-online.pdf.

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ATUC is an apex regional organization of eighteen national trade union centres and confederations, representing thirteen million members, in nine ASEAN Member States and East Timor. Its key objectives are to represent the collective interests of workers in ASEAN countries at all appropriate policy-formulating and decision-making forums and to promote the well-being of workers and their families in ASEAN countries. Its affiliates include the more representative trade union organizations in ASEAN: CCTU, CCU, CLC (Cambodia); KSBSI, KSPI/CITU, KSPSI (Indonesia); LFTU (Laos); MTUC (Malaysia); CTUM (Myanmar); TUCP, FFW (Philippines); NTUC (Singapore); LCT, NCPE, SERC, TTUC (Thailand); VGCL (Vietnam); KSTL/TLTUC (Timor Leste).

RUBEN D. TORRES
General Secretary
Mobile No: +63 908.851.3320