Trade unions raise workers’ development justice demands at the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development

Feb 2024
United Nations
APFSD, Timefor8, Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 2023

Trade union representatives converged at the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) held in Bangkok, Thailand from 20 to 23 February 2024 to raise workers’ key development justice demands on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals under review this year – Goals 1 (No Poverty), 2 (Zero Hunger), 13 (Climate Action), 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) and 17 (Partnership for the Goals).

ITUC-Asia Pacific affiliates join the APRCEM delegation in the 11th APFSD. (Photo credit: Gerimara Manuel, APWLD)

Delivering a statement on behalf of the workers and trade unions' constituency of the Asia Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism (APRCEM), Bidur Karki of General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT, Nepal) and Gene Rodriguez of Ecumenical Institute for Education and Research (EILER, Philippines) asserted that the SDG progress has regressed, leaving millions of workers behind. They emphasised that the future of workers remains bleak if governments do not take urgent and bold action on the following key recommendations:

  • Invest in decent, climate-friendly jobs with living wages for all. Update the education and training curricula to include climate and labour education, towards a sustainable future.
  • Implement the Work Programme on Just Transition Pathways adopted at COP28 and ensure that labour rights and social dialogue are central in climate policies.
  • Ensure quality public services, control the prices of basic goods, combat exploitation, income inequality, and inflation, while ensuring occupational safety and health and public funding for social protection.
  • Ratify ILO Convention 190 for a world of work free from violence and harassment.
  • Facilitate the transition to the formal economy in line with ILO Recommendation 204, and stop informalization, especially of women, youth and platform workers.
  • Respect the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining and the right to strike, which are pillars to building peace and democracy that are a cornerstone for sustainable development.

Besides delivering a statement at the APFSD’s plenary, trade unions are also visible in the Roundtable Discussion on SDG 1. Speaking on behalf of the workers and trade unions constituency of APRCEM, Julius Cainglet of the Federation of Free Workers (FFW, Philippines) underscored during the Roundtable Discussion, “We will never get out of poverty if there are no decent jobs available. If corporate greed continues to lord over economic systems without trade unions putting up a fight, the cycle of exploitation and poverty will persist way beyond 2030.”

Julius Cainglet of Federation of Free Workers served as the CSO speaker for the Roundtable Discussion on Goal 1. (Photo credit: Gerimara Manuel, APWLD)

Some of the trade unions’ asks related to decent work, social protection and just transition were reflected in the APFSD Chair’s Summary and the Draft Summary of the Roundtable Discussions.

Beyond the APFSD

The engagement of trade unions extended beyond the APFSD, as they also participated in the Asia Pacific Peoples' Forum on Sustainable Development held prior to the APFSD on 17-18 February 2024. Under the rallying theme and call, “Change the System, Shift the Power: Advancing Peoples' Demands for Development Justice,” trade unions joined civil society organizations in collectively building the peoples’ positions and demands for development justice vis-à-vis the member-states’ commitments to the Agenda 2030.

Addressing the Peoples' Forum, Sanjay Kumar Dahal of Nepal Trade Union Congress (NTUC, Nepal) stressed, “We, trade unions, think that the SDGs are far from being achieved. Without addressing the roots of informalisation and migration, without addressing the root causes of climate change, we cannot achieve decent work as well as the other goals.”

Trade unions also participated in the APFSD Associated Event, "New frontiers on social protection in a changing world", that took place on 19 February 2024. In his statement at the Associated Event, Julius Cainglet said, "It is urgent to build permanent and universal social protection systems that provide adequate coverage throughout the lifecycle, to reduce poverty and inequality, addressing the challenges of today and tomorrow."

ITUC-Asia Pacific also co-organised a side-event titled "Addressing systemic barriers in multilateralism to deliver the 2030 Agenda and prevent the climate crisis", along with APRCEM, ALGA, CECOEDECON, Asia Pacific Research Network and Asia Pacific Forum on Law, Women and Development. Its affiliates also took part in bilateral meetings with key officials, including UN Undersecretary General Guy Ryder, ESCAP Executive Secretary Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, as well as the Chair and Vice-Chair of the 11th APFSD (Nepal and the Philippines, respectively).

The trade unions and workers' constituency of APRCEM with UN Undersecretary General Guy Ryder

As the co-chair of APRCEM, ITUC-Asia Pacific played a critical role in coordinating the engagement of trade unions and civil society organisations in the APFSD. Shoya Yoshida, General Secretary of the ITUC-Asia Pacific, said:

"The engagement of trade unions in these forums reaffirms our robust commitment to campaigning for SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) and advocating for policies that prioritise the rights and well-being of workers while advancing broader development justice demands in the Asia Pacific region.”

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