THE ILO TWELFTH ASIAN REGIONAL MEETINGLabour
Mr Chair, and distinguished delegates.
The New Zealand delegation thanks the King of Thailand and the Thai Government for its generous hospitality in hosting this ILO Regional Meeting.
Chairman Kumar, may I offer our appreciation of your role as Chair of the Meeting.
What can one say in the 5 minutes allocated to each speaker?
I could muse on the difficult economic and financial situations some Asian countries are facing at this time. New Zealand went through a similar situation in the late 1980s, but as we emerged from that crisis all the stronger for it, so too will those countries.
I am particularly impressed with the realism being displayed by Thailand in facing up to its underlying structural challenges and the steps being taken to meet them.
Today my focus will be on the ILO itself and the need for more rapid reform.
I do not doubt that the ILO is, as the Director-General says, seeking to make itself more relevant and effective, more lean and productive. New Zealand supports any moves in those directions, and notes the progress already made.
But we think that opportunities for gains are constrained by lack of fundamental structural reform.
As I said in my speech to the eighty-fifth Session of the International Labour Conference, we are here because we support the ideals and objectives of the ILO.
We are here because we support the role the ILO can play in improving the lot of working men and women of the world, and the people who employ them.
There can be no higher ideal, particularly in our region, the Asia-Pacific region, which is not only the most populous but contains some of the poorest people who deserve a better life.
To play a relevant part in achieving this idea, the ILO must be relevant to this part of the world.
It must be flexible enough to achieve the Organisation's shared ideals, expressed for the most part through its labour standards, in ways relevant to each country's stage of development.
It is not enough for the ILO to expect the world to adjust to its structures and modus vivendi.
The ILO must adjust to the reality around it. Structural reform will need to be in two parts. The first is how it organises itself and spend the budget granted by member States.
I would like to refer to what the Secretary-General of the United Nations says about reform. In a July 1997 report called "Renewing the United Nations: A Programme of Reform", he points out that the aim of reform should be "to ensure that the resources entrusted to the Organisation by its Members are used to achieve the mandates they give it in the most effective and efficient manner, including at the country level".
Under the Secretary-General's proposals for managerial and process changes, which new Zealand wholeheartedly endorses, the United Nations will shift from "micromanagement in the budget process" to what he describes as a "new era of cooperation, transparency, and accountability for achieving the outcomes that member States determine". The emphasis in planning, budgeting and reporting is to be on results or outcomes, not on input accounting.
This is a fundamental change which may not be immediately obvious.
New Zealand urges the ILO to look closely at these developments within the United Nations. There is a real need in the ILO for the Governing Body to provide some clear strategic direction, and be clear about the results it demands from the Organisation. The Office would then be accountable against specific outcomes.
Invariably, a focus on outcomes would change the accountability mechanisms in the ILO. For example, more responsibility would devolve on the ILO's regional offices, as they would have to produce better outcomes, such as safer work environments, lower child labour rates, and greater conformity with labour standards in a manner suited to each member State.
This leads to the second area of structural reform.
A more relevant and effective organisation must also be promoting standards that are relevant to tomorrow's changing world.
This requires a review of existing standards based on their underlying principles. We believe the instrument of amendment to the Constitution regarding abrogation of Conventions is an important element of this process, but it needs to be used.
We believe standards should be less prescriptive. They should be applied more flexibly to match member States' stage of economic and social development, yet encourage each to reach to improve the fundamental human rights we aspire to. Once again, like the Organisation itself, they should be focused on outcomes, rather than process or activities. And we do not need a proliferation of new standards. For example, the proposed convention on Contract Labour is one which my government will oppose, because it takes the ILO in a different direction than the economic and social development that we, and many countries, are travelling in.
New Zealand, however, looks with some dismay at the reducing resources being applied to helping countries improve their ability to meet the ideals and objectives of the ILO.
The Director-General's Report shows a dramatic fall in technical cooperation expenditure from all UN sources, from US$170 million in 1991, to barely US$98 million in 1996.
Improved evaluation procedures are crucial. We note with enthusiasm the ILO's moves in this direction.
How do we ensure that the Organisation continues to move forward?
I believe that the Asia-Pacific region needs to take a greater leadership role in shaping the future of the ILO. Governments and the social partners need to recognise the strength in unity of approach to the challenges ahead in the next century.
As the twenty-first century approaches, with technology set to have a profound impact on labour markets, we must position the Organisation so that it can respond to change around it, and do son on a continuous basis. Being lean and productive is pointless if the wrong outcome is produced. Relevance must always be the guiding light. Excellence in ILO purpose is something we should all reach for.
The proposed Declaration of principles concerning fundamental rights must not work against a new direction for the ILO. Most importantly it must not create any additional supervisory mechanisms. New Zealand can support a Declaration which helps the ILO enhance respect for core principles, but not one that infringes the notion of voluntarism.
New Zealand supports the ideals and objectives of the ILO, but not unconditionally.
The ILO must dress itself for today's world and tomorrow's challenges.
To help prepare for this challenge, New Zealand will enthusiastically play its part in helping to design the wardrobe.