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Remarks by SG Tuiloma Neroni Slade at Vanuatu ILO meeting

REMARKS BY TUILOMA NERONI SLADE, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM SECRETARIAT

Presentations of Pacific Economic Ministers’ Meeting Conclusions on Labour Market Governance and Linkages to DWAPs


9 February 2010

 

Honourable Ministers
Heads of Regional Organisations
Representatives of the International Labour Organisation
Representatives of the Private Sector
Worker Representatives
Distinguished Delegates and Observers
Ladies and Gentlemen


Introduction:

1. I commence with words of appreciation to the meeting organisers for including me and the Forum Secretariat in these proceedings and to the Government of Vanuatu for the kindness and courtesy of the arrangements for this meeting.

2. I have been asked to offer some observations on Forum processes, such as those involving Forum Economic Ministers, and how they may relate to the broader Decent Work Agenda for the Pacific.

3. I note that at the heart of the Decent Work Agenda lies the desire to achieve sustainable and inclusive development across the region. For me, the effort to utilise a ‘bottom-up approach’ strikes a particular resonance in the Pacific which still holds strongly to the values of family, community and inclusiveness. Just as pleasing is the recognition of Forum processes through your discussions, with your acknowledgement of the Pacific Plan and its place of centrality which is a very much welcomed statement of recognition and support.

4. I note that your meeting yesterday was a technical session. I will of course leave the technical issues to those more knowledgeable and adept in such matters. My own purpose this morning is to offer reflections of strategic perspective in the hope that they will make some useful contribution to your discussions at this session.

Consideration One: The Complexity of Issues

5. I reflect first on the complexity of the issues that you are dealing with here. It strikes me that there is no one solution to addressing the challenges of achieving all inclusive and sustainable development, particularly when one recognises the role of labour, employment and economic development in this equation.

6. Efforts to address this will no doubt require a suite of practical and feasible solutions, perhaps even solutions innovative that range from short to long-term in nature and draw on a range of sectors and experiences.

7. In the short-term, these will no doubt include efforts to build capacity. Capacity of human resources, capacity of systems to meet changing global standards and requirements and a capacity to better understand the demands of employer and employee through the collection of information, statistics and better management of data.

8. In the longer-term this will require efforts to strengthen our regional economies to be resilient and able to withstand external shocks and better position themselves to take advantage of opportunities. Fundamental to achieving this will be ongoing dialogue and discussion between key stakeholders including: government; the private sector; and workers with a view to addressing systemic issues such as conditions and equality of access, in particular, for youth and women, and persons with disabilities who are so often hindered in their pursuit of viable livelihoods. That dialogue must focus on the deepening problems of urbanisation throughout the region – and lest we forget, on infrastructure and reinvigoration of the rural areas and their productive and agricultural potential.

9. All the more challenging is the back drop against which we must achieve this. The Global Economic Crisis has all but exposed the narrowness of options and sheer fragility of Pacific economies and in stark manner has presented up the economic realities and enormous challenges confronting the region.

10. Economic growth in the Pacific has traditionally been low. Countries continue to grapple with ways to off-set the pressures they face as a region of net importers ever so susceptible to external shocks and volatilities, all too often felt, in the most important of areas, and in particular, food prices and energy security.

11. Narrow economic bases and low levels of foreign investment continue to make growth difficult and have seen government budgets erode, public debt increase and limited labour opportunities in the formal economy.

12. While the nature of impacts may vary from one country to another, we can with some certainty say that these conditions have a significant bearing on peoples across the Pacific.

Consideration 2: The Role of the Private Sector

13. The second consideration that I draw to your attention is the role of the private sector. While at times contentious, the private sector remains fundamental to any effort to stimulate economic growth and ultimately improve opportunities for labour markets in the Pacific.

14. Often coveted as a driver for economic growth, the private sector is typically small in the region. Facing considerable regulatory obstacles and high transaction costs, a large proportion of potentially profitable sectors are effectively monopolized by state owned enterprises leaving the private sector often confined to the informal economy.

15. The challenges faced by the private sector are made all the more stark when one notes the physical context within which we live in the Pacific. The development of export markets, which is essential for economic growth, is limited by a number of factors largely related to island smallness, geographic isolation and distance from major markets. This hinders our competitive ability in producing and exporting value-added goods across the globe.

Consideration Three: Forum Efforts

16. The final consideration that I present for you is that the Pacific Islands Forum has not neglected these challenges, but rather has sought to engage with them through various processes at the level of Forum Leaders, Ministers and Officials. The Forum has grappled, as you have, with how to strengthen private sector development and achieve sustainable employment creation that will develop economies and more importantly mitigate the broader social and political pressures generated by rising population numbers and the region’s emerging youth bulge.

17. Reducing the region’s unemployment remains an ongoing concern for Forum Leaders and Ministers. Efforts have increasingly focused on ‘getting the fundamentals’ right in order to develop an enabling environment that promotes skills’ development, opportunity access and mobility for labour.

18. Various Action Plans produced by Forum Economic Ministers meetings have sought to address, for instance, ways to better capture the statistical data necessary to inform policy development, and in particular economic policy. I can report to you that such actions have been supported through various ongoing initiatives under the Pacific Plan through the support of regional organisations such the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, our own Forum Secretariat and other long standing and generous development partners such as Australia, New Zealand, the ADB, the UN System and the EU.

19. Forum Ministers have also recognised that there are a range of key factors contributing to labour market outcomes that are of themselves unrelated to labour market policies or legislation as such. These factors include population dynamics such as birth, death and migration rates; education policies; the domestic investment climate; the impact of globalisation and climate change; and attitudes towards the roles of women.

20. Noting the importance of addressing such issues at the national level, Economic Ministers have identified guidelines (2006) to promote the better functioning of labour markets and in doing so have recognised that the Pacific’s human resources are the region’s most important asset. Such guidelines have targeted: the importance of consultation in the formulation of labour market policy; the pursuit of gender equity in practice and at law; the strengthening of labour market information to better inform national policy; and the need to recognise both the formal and informal economies in addressing labour market issues.

21. At the highest level of regional policy making, Forum Leaders have set appropriate directions and mandates. In support of Forum Economic Ministers, Leaders continue to advocate the critical importance of effective coordination in the region and the assistance and support that is available from donors and development partners for that effort, in particular, the importance of private sector development and those conditions that will allow for its growth. Among the most recent examples of this, has been the call by Forum Leaders last August through the Cairns Compact which will endeavour to better develop links and opportunities for dialogue and action between government, civil society and the private sector in the region.

Conclusion

22. In concluding, I reiterate our support for the principles that you are pursuing through this meeting. Work to expand opportunities and to foster more sustainable development should guide us all in our endeavours to improve the livelihoods of people across the region. I have put some emphasis on the enormity and complexity of the challenges and the work to be done. I do so not to deter effort but rather to urge that, hand upon hand, let us move steadily along in pursuit of the Pacific vision for a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity, so that all of its people can lead free and worthwhile lives.

Thank You.

(Ends)


 

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