“We support a model of trade based on social justice and the respect of fundamental rights at work. Respecting freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining is a minimum requirement for participating in the international market.” This is the key message of Shoya Yoshida, General Secretary of the ITUC-Asia Pacific, during the panel on ‘Promoting a Worker-Centric Trade Policy in the Indo-Pacific’ on 28 October at the 2021 Indo-Pacific Business Forum.
Shoya Yoshida emphasised that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, trade unions play a critical role in promoting workers’ rights and sustainable growth, especially through social dialogue. “Social dialogue is key to recovery and resilience,” he said, highlighting an excellent example of labour-management cooperation in Indonesia that saved workers’ jobs and sustained the enterprise’s business in the time of the pandemic.
“However, it is a reality that social dialogue does not function well in many countries in the Asian and Pacific region,” said Shoya Yoshida. In order to ensure genuine and constructive social dialogue, he stressed that promoting and protecting human rights, including the right to form and join trade unions, is a matter of priority for the international community, as stipulated in the Vienna Declaration of 1993.
Shoya Yoshida also shared about the ILO supervisory mechanism that functions effectively in forming social consensus, despite some criticisms that it does not have an immediate effect or that the process takes a long time. Yet, he argued that “since the tripartite constituents have agreed over time, their recommendations have a certain binding power on the government of the country concerned and have contributed to the improvement of international labour standards of that country.”
He reiterated that the ITUC-AP supported the inclusion of all up-to-date ILO standards, at least fundamental rights at work, in trade agreements in order to prevent a regulatory race to the bottom. He highlighted the role of the ILO and its tripartite constituents, including trade unions, as the authority for the interpretation of binding social and labour provisions in these agreements.
Before the end of the session, Shoya Yoshida pointed out “respecting the rules and rights” as a priority to guarantee trade and economic polices protect workers and to ensure that all stakeholders enjoy the benefits of trade.
“The trade union movement support a rule-based trading system based on the respect of fundamental rights at work of the ILO and therefore welcome the decision of G7 Trade Ministers on forced labour last week in London. Labour rights must be integrated into the trade rules with concrete action. We must stand together decisively against those who have repeatedly violated workers’ rights and collectively take wise and expedient action,” said Shoya Yoshida.
The panel was co-moderated by US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and US Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh. Ambassador Tai opened the session by highlighting US government’s trade and labour priorities in the Indo-Pacific region to ensure durable and inclusive trade policies to benefit all and facilitate a race to the top. Meanwhile, Secretary Walsh shared the commitment to protecting workers in economic recovery from the pandemic towards sustainable economic growth in the region.
Together with Shoya Yoshida, Muhammad Lufti, Trade Minister of Indonesia, and Wai-Chan Chan, Managing Director of the Consumer Goods Forum, joined the panel.