South Asian Forum of Employers || SAFE :: South Asian Forum of Employers (SAFE) 6th meeting, 20 and 21 February 2017, Himalaya Hotel, Nepal
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 Subject :South Asian Forum of Employers (SAFE) 6th meeting - Minutes.. 07-03-2017 04:16:39 
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1.  Introduction

Introductory statements to this 6th SAFE meeting were made by Messrs. GOLCHHA, Vice-President FNCCI, and CHORUS. Mr. Golchha welcomed all participants, and pointed out that the South Asian countries differ in size but face common problems, such as youth unemployment, labour migration and lack of skills. Nepal in addition has to cope with low growth and political instability. The implementation of the new Constitution should bring stability and an improved business climate. He considers that SAFE is a very useful platform, but our mutual co-operation has to be strengthened at we do not make optimal use of it, sharing more information. Vocational training is an issue in all South Asian countries, and collaborating on this issue inside SAFE is in our common interest.

Mr. Chorus added that this 6th SAFE meeting takes a very good start, thanks to the excellent preparatory work of the hosting FNCCI and ITC/ILO. DECP is pleased to continue its support of SAFE, inter alia by covering the meeting and transport expenses of the participants. He feels that this Forum shows how employers and entrepreneurs can work together where politics sometimes create big barriers. Sharing and pooling information, and discussing common problems will help us all: for this reason SAFE has been set up in 2011.

Regretfully our Afghan colleagues were not able to obtain visas, so that this time five of the six partners in SAFE are attending.

The EO representatives introduced themselves, and expressed their wish to further strengthen SAFE.


2. Skills and Vocational Training

Mr. De Koster made a presentation on ‘EOs and skill policies’. In a first part he explained the importance of effective skills policies for both the global wealth of any country, as for the business climate, growth and employment creation by the private sector. In a second part, he tried to clarify the vastness and the complexity of skills and educational policies, making a distinction between the general education system, bridging the gap between the labour market and education, and life-long learning. In a third part, a short overview was given on the methods of intervention used by employers organisations in order to influence educational and skills policies: lobby with decision makers; use the social dialogue, teaming up with the trade unions, and take direct action by a number of initiatives, such as improving labour market information, supporting vocational training and offering in-company training. He finally formulated some questions on priorities. Information on priorities is also important for DECP in order intervene in function of priority needs of the partners..

After him representatives of the two EOs that had volunteered to present their ideas on the   skills issue, took the floor. Mr. WEERASINGHE presented the Sri Lanka experience, and gave some data on its labour market: male participation is at 74%; female at only 36%; agriculture employs 28%, industry 26% and services 46%. Unemployment is low at 4.5% but youth unemployment stands at 21%. Migration is below 300.000, and decreasing. He mentioned some specific ‘drivers of demand’ on the labour market, like technologic and demographic change, and the problem to match skills that are learned in schools with labour demand. Sri Lanka set up a ‘National Vocational Qualifications Framework (NVQ) that develops standards and curricula, and tests and accredits courses. He argued that EOs should not leave vocational training to the government but actively interfere. The tendency to opt for white collar jobs, in government or the medical or law professions should be redirected towards opting for more technical skills that ensure employment in business. Migrants tend to go overseas for jobs that are below their qualification level: this relates to higher wage offers abroad. Labour market distortions have to be removed as well. Sri Lanka introduced in 2013 a ‘Technology Stream’, promoting engineering, biotechnology and information/communication technology studies. This attracts many students. At the sectoral level courses have been developed for construction, IT, light engineering and hospitality. Firms try to link skills levels with their pay systems: at the basis a minimum skill level links with the minimum wage.

EFC intends to become a member of GAN, the international apprenticeship network, and wants to promote diversity by reducing barriers for women, creating opportunities for disabled persons (for which it created a network) and re-training retirees. It hopes to charge a nominal fee for these services. EFC has also incorporated a strategy on skills development in its 2017-2019 business plan. He finally identified skills challenges, such as flexibility, migration, environmental issues, and new dimensions of training.

Mr. ALAM briefed the meeting on the situation in Bangladesh, introducing his EO, the BEF, and its activities on improving working conditions, especially in the garments industry, where with support of ILO extensive training on OSH is given to around 800,000 workers. BEF also runs a programme to introduce safety committees and best practices in individual firms. It is also partner in the Bangladesh business disability network, offering decent jobs to this category of workers. BEF supports apprenticeships in 22 member companies. On vocational skills Bangladesh in 2016 organised a ‘skills summit’ at which youth employment, apprenticeships, decent work and workplace safety were discussed. A vocational qualifications network (NTVQF) has been set up with special attention to management training, as managers now tend to be hired abroad. An Industry Skills Council is working on improved skills for industry.

In the ensuing exchange 3 main questions were discussed: i) what are the priorities for EOs in the region, and what is feasible as outcome – result in the short term; ii) what  intervention method can be used best in your country; iii) what can the SAFE network specifically do?

Ad i: Priorities for EOs: they rather relate to the skills outcomes of education and the issue of bridging than the issue of life-long learning. Speakers stressed the mismatch between jobs offered by them and skills outcomes of school leavers. Priority should hence be given to  better labour market information; improved  forecasting of labour market needs, stronger involvement of employers in curricula and school programmes ( especially in VET); better career guidance for students; efforts for bridging school – labour market via internships etc. A sector based approach, may have to be taken in addition to the general one. Life-long learning is a lesser priority.

Ad ii) Most intervention methods cover lobbying, the social dialogue  and direct initiatives at local level between companies and schools. Using the social dialogue at national, regional or sector level could be enhanced.

Ad iii) SAFE could help creating some clarity on the skills needed across the region, including skills assessment in each country. This would give employers a better insight in which skills the diplomas from other countries cover. Sectors such as hospitality, IT, construction, maintenance, logistics, may be interested in a common certification system that brings transparency on acquired competencies. Participants felt that some more time should be devoted in the future to these issues, and may be linked to the next meeting on migration.


3. Future of EOs

The second day Ms. SANCHIR presented a range of challenges our organisations have to face as well selected findings of the survey conducted by ILO in Asia Pacific region on the state of the employer and business organization. The World Economic Forum questioned 371 firms, and found that 35% of ‘core jobs’ would ‘be disrupted’ (= change) in the next 5 years, due to integration, innovation (including artificial intelligence), demographics, climate change and geopolitical factors. Firms had to invest in ‘reskilling’ 65% of their employees, and in developing female and foreign talents. Jobs would rotate: life-long employment is over. These trends will increasingly impact EOs to evolve and respond to emerging needs of increasingly diverse membership. Other ILO research shows  that  EOs feel pressure by shifting needs of their members, changing relations with government, the unions and civil society, and competition from ad-hoc organisations of business. There is an indication that   there is a notable  shift from member subscriptions to paid-for services. We will have to pay more attention to servicing of SMEs, and maintaining (weak and politicised) trade unions as partners. ICT is increasingly applied in order to cope with future developments.

4. Future of SAFE; next meeting

Lack of time did not allow us to have a round table on current developments in the EOs. The members will exchange written reports, that will also be put on our website www.safe.org.lk, This site is kindly hosted by EFC; each EO can obtain a password and instructions on how to operate with Mr. Dasun at dasunk@empfed.lk.

SAFE is moving towards a forum that allows its members to develop positions on important issues, but it turns out to be difficult to establish such a position on skills. We will come back on this issue at the next meeting, when the issue ‘Migration’ will be the main topic to be discussed. As agreed last year the Indian members will prepare this discussion; Mr. DHAL will kindly develop a draft document and questionnaire on which the other EOs will be consulted in the course of this year. ILO will also be asked to give its input. The results will be compiled in a discussion document that will be discussed at the next SAFE meeting, and hopefully result in a SAFE position.

The other issues that were selected in 2016 will be retained for future discussion; when needed EFC is willing to take over the issue ‘women empowerment’ from ACCI for the 2019 meeting. The ACCI representatives were not able to attend, as they could not obtain travel permits from their government. We hope that next time a solution will be found for them.

The ‘to do’ list is thus:

  1. Contract labour & migration (2018: EFI and AIOE prepare)
  2. Women empowerment (2019: ACCI and/or EFC prepares)
  3. Labour law for the 21st century (EFP prepares)
  4. Wage & productivity (FNCCI prepares)

A Proposal for the Formation of 4 SAFE Task Forces that was distributed by EFP was discussed; its suggestion to set up a working group on communication was immediately accepted. Mr. ZUBERI is willing to act as convenor; all member-EOs are invited to indicate a representative in this working group. It will consider communication tools that we can use in order to make exchange of info and opinions easier, and may include a regular newsletter.

The other proposed task forces (on skills, women empowerment and the future of work) will be considered at a later stage.

At the meeting EFP and FNCCI concluded a Memorandum of Understanding that further strengthens the framework of our common Forum.

President AZIZ of the EFP kindly invited the SAFE to hold its 2018 meeting in Karachi. It is a beautiful and accessible city; safety aspect will be taken care of. The meeting is pleased to accept the EFP proposal; the date of the 7th SAFE meeting is set at Monday 19 and Tuesday 20 February 2018; we intend to use the two full days.

The representatives of FNCCI that kindly hosted this 6th meeting, and did such an excellent organisational job; the ILO/ITC secretaries who arranged our flight schedules and visa; and Ms Sanchir, Messrs. De Koster, Weerasinghe and Alam were all greatly thanked for their contributions and support. The meeting was closed with short statements of Ms. Meena SHRESTHA and Mr. Chorus, and a common lunch at the Hotel.



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