It has been 50 years since Bangladesh joined the International Labour Organization (ILO) as a member state. To mark the occasion, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh and ILO jointly organized a national seminar on "Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work" to discuss the progression in the areas of labour rights, decent work and social justice.

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen urged the ILO to join Bangladesh in its forward-looking efforts without dragging them into the unfortunate past that otherwise only helps serve some "vested" national and international interests and agenda.

"Please don't use labour weaknesses, if there be any, as a tool to achieve political gains, rather try to help and assist to overcome those weaknesses with generous support and financing," he said while speaking as the chief guest at the seminar held at Foreign Service Academy on October 18.

Momen said he publicly made these observations in the spirit of Bangladesh's "constructive engagement" with ILO and in their mutual interest.

He reiterated that the government of Bangladesh remains willing to facilitate appropriate course-corrections in the labour and employment sectors in response to its socio-economic context at any given time.

"We would, however, expect our relevant international partners including ILO to acknowledge the value of local level knowledge and insights without taking a one-sided prescriptive approach that one model fits all," Momen said.

He said the government remains determined to navigate the current cost-of-living crisis in the wake of the war in Ukraine by continuing its efforts to create decent jobs for the young workforce and by expanding the reach of social safety nets to help poor households offset the inflationary pressures.

"It is critical that the international financial institutions provide the required fiscal space to developing countries like ours by taking certain proven policy measures in the face of a likely global recession," he said.

Momen recalled ILO's resurgence and relevance in the international policy discourse during the global financial crisis of 2008-09. "We would wish to see ILO living up to its expected role as we countenance yet another multiple crisis period."

Speaking at the seminar, ILO's Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa said ILO will continue to support the government with the application of ratified conventions.

ILO has supported a systematic approach to skills governance and anticipates further modernization and ILO is committed to continue this partnership, she said, adding that "Together with the government and social partners we will continue to strive to reach common goals."

The ILO senior official said the overarching goal is to see Bangladesh achieve an economic and social recovery from the crisis that is fully inclusive, systematic and resilient.

She laid emphasis on strengthening policies that prioritise the creation of decent works for all and address the inequalities.

Reaching this goal will mean making progress through a comprehensive agenda and promote quality employment, economic development, workers protection, universal protection and social dialogue, Asada-Miyakawa said.

She appreciated the government of Bangladesh for ratifying eight fundamental conventions, two governance conventions and 26 technical conventions, and urged that the focus should now be on their implementation of these labour standards.

In the 2021 International Labour Conference, like other 181 countries, Bangladesh unanimously adopted the Global Call to Action for a Human-centred Recovery that can guide recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

"Now more than ever before, public policy for Bangladesh needs to be more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient. An important part of giving everyone a fair chance in the development pathway is to give top priority to the fundamental values of freedom, human dignity, social justice, security, and non-discrimination," Miyakawa said.

Flagging five specific issues of interest for reinforcing and recalibrating future cooperation with ILO, Momen hoped that ILO would give enhanced focus on supporting the government and social partners for the rapid transformations to be taking place in the world of work due to climate change, digitization, artificial intelligence and other factors.

"We would like to see ILO taking a future-leaning approach in supporting our long-term development aspirations in lieu of resorting to short-term project-driven engagements carried out through hired expertise," he said.

Secondly, he said, Bangladesh wants to see ILO take a more vocal stand in favour of upholding the fundamental rights at work for migrant workers around the world.

It is unfortunate that the international trade union bodies often pay nothing more than lip service for protecting the rights and interest of migrant workers, he said.

Momen said Bangladesh wishes to see ILO as a partner in capacity building and not necessarily appropriate what should be matters of local competence.

"ILO is expected to act as a UN agency and appreciate the dynamics of national or local narratives and aspirations," he said.

Bangladesh, like many other countries, had experienced some gravely tragic incidents in the labour sector, even till recently.

"As a nation with a resilient spirit, it is our continuous effort to learn from those tragedies and overcome the structural and systemic constraints underlying those incidents," Momen said.

The foreign minister said Bangladesh remains convinced that without a productive workforce employed in a decent work environment, it would be a challenge for them to realize the Vision 2041.

"Our government will sustain the momentum of reforms in the labour sector building on our shared achievements and experiences in the last fifty years," he said, adding that Bangladesh has proved itself to be a poster child for much of the UN's development activities.

Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen and other stakeholders spoke at the seminar.

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