Wed, 07 May 2003

ASEAN to liberalize its labor markets

Ridwan Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara

Senior officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed on Tuesday to start liberalizing their labor markets by identifying sectors that could be opened to workers from member countries.

The officials, who met here before the ASEAN labor ministerial meeting, also agreed to formulate standards of competence for workers in the region, Indonesian delegation chairman Edison Situmorang said.

"All delegations agreed to make a long list of jobs at all levels which are open to all workers in the region," said Edison, who chaired the meeting.

In addition, all delegations agreed to design joint programs in social security schemes, industrial relations and labor training to improve labor conditions in respective countries.

The decisions reached during the meeting would be endorsed by ASEAN labor ministers, who start their two-day meeting on Thursday.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri is scheduled to open the meeting.

On Wednesday, senior ASEAN officials will hold talks with their dialog partners from South Korea, Japan, China, the European Union, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) to seek technical and financial assistance for ASEAN's joint labor programs.

Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration labor training and productivity director general Mudjiman said after the meeting that Indonesia was also lobbying the dialogue partners to get additional assistance for Indonesia.

The assistance would be used to finance self-employment programs for workers in the informal sector, Mudjiman said.

"We expect China to sponsor our social security program, Japan to provide training for Indonesian officials and finance training programs for Indonesian job seekers, while the ILO and European Union could finance the recovery program to fight against the poverty and backwardness in the country," he said.

ILO representative in Jakarta Alan Boulton said the ILO -- attending the meeting for the first time -- was committed to carrying out ASEAN's joint labor programs to help improve labor conditions in the region.

"Principally, ILO is committed to channeling financial assistance from donor countries to ASEAN and Indonesia," he said.