ASEAN People’s Forum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia: The Bottom of ASEAN Thematic Workshop 2012

As a part of the APF program in 2012 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, MMN organised a thematic workshop entitled “The Bottom of ASEAN” on 30 March 2012. The Workshop was attended by around 40-50 participants.

The workshop was convened to examine the impact on the countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion of the ASEAN Economic Integration of 2015. Workshop participants expressed concern that the ASEAN Economic Integration would enforce and expand the existing discrimination between the rights and conditions for skilled and unskilled workers. The current framework for the ASEAN Economic Integration promotes the free movement of only skilled workers, ignoring the future of the millions of workers in low skilled jobs.  In the race to the bottom, they feared that many unskilled workers in the region would be left at the bottom forever. The participants felt that the provision of skills training and career opportunities for all workers and particularly unskilled workers was urgently needed.  The participants also expressed concern at the frequent usage of the term “cheap labour” by not only business people but also politicians and even ASEAN representatives. The workshop hoped that the media might in the future challenge anyone who uses this term. The media could for example ask whether those talking about cheap labour were actually talking about exploiting workers and paying less than a living wage.