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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, September 2, 2006

Better Asia labor conditions sought

By Kelly Olsen
Associated Press

BUSAN, South Korea The International Labor Organization yesterday vowed to carry out an ambitious campaign to improve working conditions in the Asia-Pacific region over the next nine years.

Regional members of the U.N. body on labor and workplace declared an "Asian Decent Work Decade" to 2015, "during which we will make a concerted and sustained effort to realize decent work in all countries of our diverse continent."

Government representatives and workers' and employers' organizations from close to 40 regional countries and territories have been meeting since Tuesday to discuss issues such as youth employment, migration, globalization, competitiveness and productivity.

The adoption of the goal came on the final day of the conference, titled "Realizing Decent Work in Asia," the ILO's first regional meeting in five years.

This year's meeting was for the first time marked by high-level political participation, with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and the prime ministers of Sri Lanka and Jordan attending.

"We are setting ourselves some ambitious objectives," ILO Director-general Juan Somavia said in a closing address. "And when I say 'we,' I mean very deliberately governments, employers, organizations, trade unions and the office together."

"Decent Work" is an ILO concept that includes the creation of jobs and businesses, social protections for laborers and workplace rights, including the right to organize .

Among the objectives committed to yesterday include promoting job creation, access to education and gender equality.

It also vowed to seek special attention for "vulnerable workers," such as those with disabilities and or HIV/AIDS, and support the rights of indigenous peoples and workers.

Improving social protections, including for workers in the informal economy, as well as promoting workplace safety and health, were also included.

The Geneva-based organization is also committed to the elimination of child labor and has set a goal of eradicating its worst forms in the next 10 years.

The gathering was the ILO's 14th Asian meeting. The organization has its regional headquarters in Bangkok.

Normally held every four years, the meeting was scheduled for 2005 in Busan, a major South Korean port city.

However, tensions between South Korean labor organizations and the government over labor policy forced organizers to postpone it.