Stefan Priesner: Opening Speech at the International Conference on “Ensuring labor rights: the experience of Uzbekistan and international labor standards”

24 Apr 2014

Distinguished participants! Ladies and Gentlemen

A very warm welcome on behalf of the UN system in Uzbekistan.  It is a pleasure to be here in the international conference on “Ensuring labor rights: the experience of Uzbekistan and international labor standards”. I would like to congratulate the co-organizers of the conference, which is a very timely and important event. This is why I would like to look at the significance of the conference from three angles: from the perspective of the current development position of Uzbekistan; from the rights angle; and from the view of cooperation between the Government and the United Nations.

First the conference is timely, because of the very moment in development that Uzbekistan finds itself: The country has recently moved up to MIC status, and has an ambitious agenda, in which the creation of productive employment is in the center as major driving force for inclusive growth. This has several dimensions, but I would like to highlight two: on the demand side growth needs to be coupled with high employment intensity of growth. Unfortunately, economic growth can be jobless as history of economic development has often shown, and it is very important to focus on employment generating growth. This as we know has a lot to do with unleashing the role of the private sector – 90% of jobs in developing countries are provided by the private sector. Hence it is important that the enabling environment for business unlocks the flourishing of the private sector. In this regard I would like to commend the progress with the recent Presidential decree on business environment.

On the supply side labour needs to change with the concept of decent work in the center. Decent work means work that adheres to international standards and labour rights; that involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration among other determinants. As Uzbekistan has expressed its aspiration to join the community of developed nations the thematic focus of the conference is amply relevant.

I am proud to say that the UN is already closely working with the Government partners around the table on very concrete results: with the Chamber of Commerce to improve the business environment; with the Ministry of Labour to help create job opportunities for the disadvantaged, including the disabled. As a specific example I’d like to highlight our collaboration  with regard to the Unified Information System "Labor Market" that has been rolled out throughout the country (193 territorial units of the ministry) and is linked to the web portal of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection.  As of today 80 thousand open positions and 50 thousand job seekers are registered at this public website, making it much easier to match demand for labour with the aspiration of job seekers.

 

Secondly, I would like to emphasize that the work on labour rights and international labour standards is seen as part of the UN family’s constructive engagement with national partners in Uzbekistan on fostering the human rights agenda. In this regard I commend the cooperation between Government of Uzbekistan and the ILO on tackling the issue of child labour, including the successful joint Government-Trade Union-ILO monitoring mission in autumn 2013, which has shown major progress in this important area of labour/human rights.

This progress is complemented by good cooperation between the UN and the Government on following up to the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review that was finalized in September 2013. This cooperation evolved around the development of a National Action Plan (NAP), which includes labour rights and social security as one of the chapters. And this is very appropriate given the multiple interlinkages with other sets of rights, such as

·         the right to association and participation in the decisions that affect their lives

·         equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men

·         economic and social rights, specifically of the disadvantaged groups so as to make decent work available and accessible for all members of the society

I would like to express the UN’s appreciation that we have been given assurance that the Plan would be soon endorsed by the Government. We are looking forward to signing a Memorandum of Understanding on supporting the implementation of the Plan soon, which also envisages the formulation of a joint programme with the Government.

Thirdly, the conference has bearing on the cooperation between the UN and the Government.

The UN is closely working with Government both on the developmental side of inclusive growth as well as on the rights side. While rights define minimum standards and principles of equal access, development takes the agenda forward step by step. However, development needs to be informed by the rights agenda to ensure that the appropriate direction is set and distortions are avoided.  Hence for the UN rights and development are actually two sides of the same agenda.

In this context I would like to congratulate the ILO and partners for the signing of the Decent Work Country Programme. The programme is an excellent example of bringing together the development as well as the rights side and has been built on extensive consultations and productive collaboration with Government and NGO partners. We as the UN family in Uzbekistan are delighted about this important enhancement of the scope of collaboration with the Government. After all ILO is a specialized agency and member of the UN family.

The UN Country Team is about to start the strategic process of designing the next development assistance framework for 2016-2020 in cooperation with Government and the UN looks forward to implementing a strategic set of interventions in several agreed cooperation areas, including in the area of decent work as one UN. Through delivering as one UN different UN agencies can bring to bear their resources, expertise and best practices from all over the world in a package of development assistance tailored to the needs of Uzbekistan.

We look forward to taking this forward with our partners and I wish you a productive conference.

Thank you.