Social protection

Achieving Social Security for All in Asia and Europe

Opening remarks by Mr Tim De Meyer, Director of ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia on International Conference on Social Protection and ASEM 2016

Statement | Ulan Bataar, Mongolia | 05 July 2016
Mr. Amgalanbaatar, President of CMTU,
Dr. Stefan Chrobot, Resident Director of FES,
Mr. Noriyuki Suzuki, General Secretary of ITUC Asia Pacific,
Distinguished participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to join all of you at this International Conference on Achieving Social Security for All in Asia and Europe. Congratulations to the FES and the CMTU for convening this Conference and to the People’s Forum for selecting the overarching theme of “Building New Solidarities: Working for Inclusive, Just, and Equal Alternatives in Asia and Europe”.

Congratulations to the country and the people of Mongolia for successfully, peacefully holding parliamentary elections at all levels. Mongolia’s steadfast commitment to democracy and human rights in sometimes difficult circumstances is a fitting tribute to the values of dialogue, cooperation, confidence-building and solidarity that have defined ASEM and AEPF since they were founded 20 years ago. It is as much a tribute to the aspirations of social justice and decent work that have defined the ILO since its foundation now close to 100 years ago. I cannot think of a better country to host the 11th Asia Europe Meeting this year.

The stark reality is the fundamental human right to social security remains unfulfilled for the large majority of the world’s population. Only 27 per cent of the global population enjoy access to comprehensive social security systems, whereas 73 per cent are covered partially or not at all. Japan remains so far the only ASEM member in Asia to have ratified the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102). This raises questions not just about the political commitment to solidarity across various section and generations in society, but fundamentally about the vision for long-term sustainable growth by and for people.

Inadequate or absent social protection coverage is associated with high and persistent levels of poverty, growing levels of inequality, insufficient investments in human capital and human capabilities, and weak aggregate demand in a time of recession and slow growth.

On poverty. The financial and economic crisis in 2008 left over 200 million people without a job, but that is unfortunately not the full story. In 2015, 327 million working people were living in extreme poverty, and nearly 3 times as many in moderate or near poverty, in developing and emerging economies. In the advanced economies, the share of the population living in absolute poverty increased after the crisis and in some cases actually doubled. Income poverty is strongly correlated with its other expressions, such as educational poverty, energy poverty, poverty of opportunity, and exposure to unhealthy or dangerous living and working conditions.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda issued a strong call for aligning social and economic considerations. This call is particularly articulated in SDG 10, which aims to progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a rate higher than the national average, and envisages an assault on discrimination and implementation of reinforced pro-equality measures, especially fiscal, wage and social protection policies.

Already in 2009, the United Nations system responded to the looming poverty crisis with the social protection floor initiative. The idea of a social protection floor is simple. Everyone without exception is entitled to basic social guarantees: 1) essential health care; 2) basic income security for children to enjoy access to health, education and nutrition; 3) basic income security for people of working age in cases of sickness, unemployment, accident, maternity and disability; and 4) basic income security for all older persons.

The Social Protection Floor Initiative does not call for dismantling existing social security systems, but for extending their coverage; for improving their instrumentality in promoting productive, formal and decent employment; and for complementing their shortfalls with appropriate fiscal and wage policies.
In Mongolia, the UN system with technical inputs from ILO has assisted with the review and design of more comprehensive social protection systems. The assessment based national dialogue (ABND), which you will hear more about this afternoon, emphasizes the role of social partnership in building nationally defined social protection floors. Without the direct involvement of workers and employers in the administration of social protection, chances are that the social and economic benefits of social security are not widely enough understood; social security systems not trusted and benefits not arriving where they are needed most. In the spirit of tripartism, it is important that wherever business representatives can report to political leaders, trade unions and other civil society organizations can do the same.

Last year, establishing a nationally defined SPF became a target for sustainable development for developed and developing countries alike. In December 2015, the 5th ASEM Labour and Employment Ministers’ Conference called on ASEM Leaders to encourage dialogue between ASEM Labour and Employment Ministers and ASEM Finance Ministers on European and Asian experiences in enhancing national fiscal space to invest in expanding coverage of SPFs to combat poverty and generate opportunities for decent work and inclusive economic growth.

Today is your turn to remind leaders of past commitments and future imperatives. A Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors representing non-governmental organizations and trade unions from all parts of the world is absolutely needed to sustain the political momentum needed to make SPFs a reality.

I wish you every success in building a social protection movement. Happy Naadam. Thank you.