The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is working towards the standardisation of labour skills and has agreed to study the impacts of ASEAN labour integration.
The 10 member countries met in Indonesia at the 3 rd meeting of the Ad-Hoc Working Group on progressive labour to enhance competitiveness. The meeting agreed to follow on from decisions made at the 12th ASEAN Summit regarding the establishment of an ASEAN Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of Rights of Migrant Workers. Participants also confirmed their support for regional best practices in industrial relations.
The meeting adopted other priorities regarding the ASEAN Forum on Migrant Workers, Social Security and Protection Systems. The progress of these priorities will be reported at the ASEAN labour ministers' meeting next year. The Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare's Labour Department, Mr. Thongdeng Singthilath, said following his return to Laos last week that the member countries placed an emphasis on the establishment of an institute to test and certify labourers in each member country.
"Even though thousands of students are now graduating from universities, colleges and vocational schools, many remained unskilled," he said. He explained that the establishment of the new institution was aimed at enhancing labour skills so that workers' qualifications would be recognised throughout the region.
The rapid growth of the industrialised sector has shown an increasing demand for workers from other countries to work in the industries of developing countries. Indonesia has a huge population and could therefore send workers to its neighbours to fill employment gaps.
The recognition of the skills of a labour pool would enable Lao workers to work in other countries with higher wages, and with protection mechanisms similar to those of local workers. Thailand is currently seeking more than 50,000 workers from Laos to work in its factories, which has stimulated the labour sector to develop the skills of its workforce.
"The export of skilled workers will ensure that our workers receive higher wages and similar protection benefits as the workers in their country of employment," Mr. Thongdeng said. He said that, first of all, Laos would aim to set standards for its own workers and produce a skilled labour pool with the right objectives.
It is necessary to produce the correct number of workers to match the numbers required, to avoid producing too many in some sectors and insufficient in others, as is the case now, he said. However, Laos suffers considerable budgetary constraints in financing the development of labour skills to match those of its neighbours.
Mr. Thongdeng said the older ASEAN countries had expressed their intention to assist the newer member countries in developing human resources, including improving labour skills.
Adapted from: Somsack Pongkhao. "Asian debates labour standards." Vientiane Times. 17 September 2007.
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