Trade unions join the call for development justice at the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development

Trade unions participated in the 9th Asia Pacific Forum for Sustainable Development (APFSD) on 28-31 March 2022 and added the workers’ voices to the collective call for development justice by civil society organisations across the region.

Organised around the theme “Building back better from COVID-19 while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda in Asia and the Pacific”, the APFSD offered trade unions the opportunity to put forward workers’ concerns and recommendations a on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs SDGs The Sustainable Development Goals were one of the outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference. The members States launched a new set of future international development goals, which will build upon the Millennium Development Goals and converge with the post-2015 development agenda. ) under review this year – Goals 4, 5, 14, 15, and 17.

Shoya Yoshida , General Secretary of the ITUC-Asia Pacific, was one of the main discussants in the thematic session on “economic empowerment of women, including the implications of disproportionate unpaid care and domestic work burdens on women and girls” during the Roundtable on SDG 5. In his intervention, Yoshida underscored three key policy enablers to support women in the world of work as the region recovers from COVID-19 economically and socially: investing in care, ending gender pay gap, and guaranteeing gender-responsive social protection.

He also highlighted the longstanding issue of gender pay gap in the region that persists due to discriminatory patriarchal norms and is aggravated by gender-based violence. “Eliminating violence and harassment is non-negotiable to a gender-equal world of work; hence, the ratification of the ILO Convention 190 is paramount,” he said, and added “Ending gender pay gap must not only equalise the pay between men and women, but also ensure that all workers – regardless of gender – are paid living wages.”

Further, Shoya Yoshida also stressed that women workers are more likely to be excluded from social protection, hence, ITUC-Asia Pacific’s call for a gender-responsive social protection with adequate, sustainable, and equitable financing.

Trade unions also contributed to the roundtable discussions on SDGs SDGs The Sustainable Development Goals were one of the outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference. The members States launched a new set of future international development goals, which will build upon the Millennium Development Goals and converge with the post-2015 development agenda. 4 and 17, highlighting the need to strengthen social dialogue and mobilise resources through progressive taxation.

On behalf of the workers and trade unions’ constituency of the Asia Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism (APRCEM), Joy Hernandez, Communications and Advocacy Officer of the ITUC-Asia Pacific, intervened in the APFSD’s plenary session on the review of regional progress on SDGs SDGs The Sustainable Development Goals were one of the outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference. The members States launched a new set of future international development goals, which will build upon the Millennium Development Goals and converge with the post-2015 development agenda. .

“During the pandemic, we failed to adopt labour-friendly policies and address systemic issues that plague the working people. Let us not waste another opportunity to implement progressive reforms as our countries take the road to recovery,” she said and underscored the importance of SDG 8 in driving the 2030 Agenda forward because of its multidimensional nature and interlinkages to other SDGs, including the SDGs under review this year.

“To be sustainable, recovery measures must be built on the engagement of social partners. Social dialogue helps rebuild trust in institutions and contributes to crafting equitable and sustainable policies that leave no one, including workers, behind,” she added.

Most of the trade union priorities were reflected in the draft report of the APFSD and the draft summary of the roundtable discussions.

Engagement in the Asia Pacific Peoples’ Forum and side events

Prior to the APFSD, trade unions participated in the Asia Pacific Peoples’ Forum on Sustainable Development (APPFSD) organised by APRCEM on 22-25 March 2022. With the theme, “Confronting Corporate Capture and Demanding State Accountability for Just and Equitable Recovery from COVID-19”, one of the objectives of the APPFSD was to collectively build positions and recommendations to be forwarded to the process and member states on peoples’ demands for development justice vis-a-vis commitments to the 2030 Agenda.

Speaking in the panel on “Achieving People’s Agenda and Development Justice Amidst COVID-19”, Phyoe Sandar Soe, Assistant General Secretary of the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar, talked about worker’s struggle for democracy in Myanmar while battling the pandemic. She said that the junta set aside the national action plans that were developed prior to the coup to address the pandemic., and that the health system collapsed as doctors joined the civil disobedience movement and became targets of the military. “Overthrowing the military regime is the only solution to the COVID-19 crisis,” she said.

Trade unions also took part in the side event organised by Education International - Asia Pacific on 30 March 2022 entitled “Invest in Teachers, Invest In Education: Supporting Teachers Towards Achieving SDG 4”. In his speech, Shoya Yoshida stressed that the only way to maintain and increase the quality of education is to invest in teachers and education. He said, “Without fiscal sustainability, we cannot provide people with adequate levels of social security benefits and social services, including education.” Noting that Asia Pacific is the only region where military spending has continuously increased since 1989, he posed the question, “If we reallocate a small portion of the military spending to education and to improve the working conditions of teachers, how many lives will be saved and how many children will smile?”

Beyond the APFSD, trade unions in Asia and the Pacific, recognising their role as key actors in development, aim to continue their engagement in various processes related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development beyond the APFSD – nationally, regionally, and globally.