GOVERNMENTS must extend social protection policies to the self-employed in the wake of globalisation and the economic downturn, said a senior Bruneian government official.
"Globalisation and the effects of the economic crisis have pushed the need for comprehensive social protection policies that were inclusive and extended to all levels of society in the ASEAN region, including those who are self-employed," said Roslan Taja'ah, the deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs during the launch of the two-day ASEAN workshop on extending social protection to the self-employed in the region at The Centrepoint Hotel yesterday.
In his welcoming remarks, the deputy permanent secretary said the economic downturn had raised awareness of the vulnerability of ASEAN to basic social issues such as unemployment, job security and welfare. "While we may have a tendency to view such concerns as only within our respective borders, the inter-dependency of our markets today guarantees that these issues will have a resounding impact throughout politically, economically and socially-connected regions, including ASEAN," he said.
He added that there was also a tendency to undervalue and underestimate the benefits of strong social protection schemes and their role in alleviating poverty.
While national policies attempt to be as inclusive as possible, there are still individual members of society who are in danger of being overlooked by social protection schemes.
"These are the people who work in the informal sector or who are self-employed. They represent a significant part of the working population but are unintentionally marginalised during this economic downturn," he said.
"We must also remember that some citizens, for their own reasons, may choose to turn a blind eye to national protection initiatives. It is therefore our duty to explore why this happens," he added.
The deputy permanent secretary said the International Labour Organization (ILO) had fully taken into account the current global situation and had had the foresight in June to adopt the Recommendation of National Floors of Social Protection.
"This is an opportune time to take stock of our national social protection initiatives," he said.
Hosted by Brunei's Department of Labour, with the cooperation of the ILO, the two-day workshop is aimed at helping ASEAN member states better understand where national policies are falling short when it comes to extending social protection mechanisms to all.
Participants from ASEAN states made individual presentations that were followed by group discussions and interactive awareness-raising activities.
The deputy permanent secretary said Brunei currently had limited data on its informal sector, and that the government hoped to get "back to basics" to understand the sector better so that it could carry out a comprehensive study.
"Before we venture into considering what options are available, we must first understand some basic concepts, such as: What are the benefits and importance of social insurance? Who is included and excluded in the definition of the informal sector? What types of work are being perpetrated in the informal sector? What is the best form of mechanism that appropriately extends social protection to those in this sector? And finally, how do we encourage those in the informal sector towards some kind of formalisation?" he said.
"We hope that with the awareness and understanding gained from sharing in the key outcomes of this workshop today, we can contribute to the higher-level ASEAN discussions on this important topic," he added.
The workshop is expected to conclude today with a proposed strategy for ASEAN to be presented by an ILO representative.
AL-HAADI ABU BAKAR
The Brunei Times
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