Home >  News >  Speech and Statements by the Prime Minister >  December 2011 >  15th ILO Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting Special Address by Prime Minister Noda

Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister

15th ILO Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting Special Address by Prime Minister Noda

Sunday, December 4, 2011

[Provisional Translation]

1. Welcome message

It is very meaningful and delightful that the historic ILO Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting is to be held here in the ancient capital of Kyoto amid the colors of late autumn. I warmly welcome everyone participating in this Meeting from countries all over the world.

As you know, Japan is currently working hard for reconstruction following the Great East Japan Earthquake disaster in March this year, supported by warm encouragement from the rest of the world. I would like to express once again my heartful appreciation for support from the governments, workers and employers in each country until now. The fact that this international meeting, temporarily postponed as a result of the disaster, is now being held in Japan as originally planned - albeit in a different season - will give the Japanese people immense reassurance as sure proof that our nation is on the road to recovery. In this respect, I would like to express my appreciation for the unflagging efforts of Juan Somavia, the Director-General, Sachiko Yamamoto, Regional Director for Asian and the Pacific, Nada Al-Nashif, Regional Director for Arab States and everyone else concerned.

I should also add that it is thanks to the cooperation of workers' and employers' representatives that we have been able to hold this Meeting in Japan. It is the very proof that Japan places a high priority on tripartite social dialogue. In particular, I extend my heartfelt thanks to Nobuaki Koga, President of Japanese Trade Union Confederation, Rengo, Atsutoshi Nishida, Vice Chairman of Japan Business Federation, Keidanren, and other representatives of workers and employers.

I understand that the theme of this Meeting is how we can expand Decent Work in Asia and the Pacific region, in a form that is sustainable into the future. In an era when globally connected economies are throwing up a series of problems, how should we reappraise the significance of "working"? This is a simple yet essential question that the governments, workers and employers in each country need to confront seriously.

The work of finding a solution to this will by no means be simple. This is because we will need to solve an extremely complex equation in which problems of social justice and economic rationality are intertwined, using ever-changing economic conditions as our variables. Moreover, this is very closely related to the issue of "reviving a large middle class" which I am planning to tackle in Japan from now on.

Today, I hope to set off your discussions over the coming four days by outlining part of my own awareness of the issues and measures taken by the Government of Japan to date.

2. To achieve socially inclusive, balanced economic growth

(1) High-level growth supported by the "large middle class"

It has actually passed 43 years since the ILO Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting was last held in Japan in 1968. At that time, nearly half a century ago, Japan had recovered from postwar devastation and was hurtling headlong on a path of high-level economic growth never known before in human history.

In this period of economic growth, not only did the overall pie of Japan's economy grow larger, but the per capita income of the people also steadily grew. Japanese people were filled with the absolute confidence that "If we work with sweat on our brow, our tomorrows will definitely be better than our yesterdays". And their hard work gave them the opportunity to acquire new home appliances - televisions, refrigerators and washing machines - so,for just five or ten years, the increased convenience of their lives had become plain for all to see. This was an era overflowing with the hope that each individual could enjoy an affluence linked to the burgeoning national economy.

The biggest driving factor behind this was the existence of the "large middle class", supported by a reliable system of social security. The fruits of high-level economic growth were by no means the sole domain of the limited wealthy class, but were spread evenly among the middle class that accounted for the majority. This created a positive cycle whereby, as the middle class became more affluent and their increased purchasing power led to further economic growth.

(2) A "crisis of the middle class" becoming apparent in various parts

The reason why I place particular stress on the "largeness of the middle class" is that a situation one might call a "crisis of the middle class" is advancing simultaneously in various parts of the world, and that this is a problem shared by all countries of the world. In fact, various statistical data show that the gap between rich and poor is widening in many countries, including industrialized nations; a trend can be seen for an ongoing polarization of society.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, in which young Americans gathered in New York under the slogan "We are the 99%" (referring to the widening gap between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population), could be seen as symbolizing this. Even in Japan, once said to have a "we-are-all-middle-class" mentality, talk of a "divided society" has already been around for several years. In many developing countries, there is no class corresponding to the middle class in the first place, and many people face such poverty that they struggle even to meet their basic daily needs.

In terms of social justice, it goes without saying that this progressive polarization is itself fraught with serious problems. If the gap were to become established over generations, faith in the entire social system could be lost, and the very stability of society itself could be undermined. But on the other hand, society would lose its vitality if, in excessive pursuit of fair distribution, we were to completely deny competition and its result.

How can we create a safety net for society while maintaining social vitality? All countries are required to find the best way of setting clear strategies and designing concrete systems aimed at economic growth and creating employment.

(3) Weighing up the pros and cons of globalization

There is a tendency for widening disparity in various countries to be blamed on "globalization" itself. In a globally connected world economy, it is beyond doubt that people, products, money, services, information and various other things are crossing national borders, economic activity is progressing on a previously unknown scale and with unprecedented speed, and competition is becoming fiercer all over the world.

What we must not forget, however, is that this globalization has, above all else, led to the conspicuous rise of Asia and the Pacific region in economic terms, and that, more than anyone else, it has provided huge new opportunities for people living in this region. The new middle class now rapidly rising in emerging economies is expected to become a driving force that will create huge markets, bring high-level growth as was once seen in Japan, and thereby propel the global economy as a whole.

A side effect of the globalization that creates these huge opportunities may be that disparity is prone to widen. It has also been pointed out that not enough employment has been created to meet sufficient economic growth. But that would not justify turning back the hands of clock and disconnecting a world that has become connected.

Rather than turning our backs on globalization, we should seek to maximize its benefits while applying prudent policy measures to address the social problems caused by it and suitably controlling its negative impact. What we need now is dealing with globalization and taking strategic and proactive measures by each country.

3. To revive the "large middle class" based on the global economy

(1) The global economy - risks and safety nets

During these five years after the last Meeting, the world has experienced a global financial crisis of a scale said to occur but once every century. Japan has also been badly affected, with many young people and non-regular workers losing their jobs, their homes and the basis of their subsistence, and this has become a major social problem.

And today, there are still many risk factors presented by the global economy: the European debt crisis is spreading ominously, while frequent natural disasters and inflation of primary product prices also play their part.

In a globally connected world, various forms of "crisis" can just as easily cross borders and proliferate; the problems of one country also exert negative influences on other countries through financing and supply chains. Once a crisis rears its head, its adverse impact affects workers' lives through the problem of employment, and has a disastrous effect on people in the most vulnerable positions.

To achieve Decent Work in this region, more than anything, it is essential that we spread out a broad social safety net in readiness for these risks. What is important is that, even if temporarily unemployed, people can transform this into an opportunity to acquire new vocational abilities and skills. In October, we started a new system for providing integrated vocational training, subsistence support and job seekers' support in line with this rationale.

Something that supported Japan's "large middle class" in the period of high-level economic growth, as I mentioned earlier, was the system of social security established during that time. Since the war, Japan has gradually enhanced its safety net, including labor legislation and the social security system, and still continues to make improvements. For our part, we will make every effort to draw on these experiences in building safety nets in the region, in cooperation with ILO.

At this Meeting, we will host a Special Session on the theme of employment measures in the event of a natural disaster. This is because we wish to take the initiative in sharing the "Lessons Learned" gained through our experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake disaster with Asia and the Pacific region, where 40% of the whole world's natural disasters are concentrated. I look forward to a very meaningful discussion.

In around 10 years from now, many countries in Asia and the Pacific region will face the arrival of the "ultra-aging society", as we have already in Japan. As a pioneer in this respect, I would like Japan to establish a system of social security that is sustainable even with a declining birth rate and population aging, and to make it a model for this entire region.

(2) Strategic action aimed at creating employment

While a safety net focusing on employment support for individuals is important, employment opportunities will not be created through that alone. To guarantee Decent Work, it is vital that we develop an environment in which we engage with companies that create employment and encourage their active investment in it.

Because we have excessively emphasized market functions since the turn of the century, economic policies in Japan have been likely to be developed without regard to their impact on employment. The Democratic Party of Japan came to power in 2009, amid calls for action on the harsh employment climate. Since then, the new administration has endeavored to rebuild a political philosophy based on a repudiation of these past economic policies.

The fruit of this change is the "New Growth Strategy" drawn up in June 2010. It identifies "creating employment" as a central task, and clarifies our stance of wishing to eliminate public anxiety over the future by guaranteeing employment and promote economic growth.

Another new policy philosophy indicated in the "New Growth Strategy" is that new demand will be created by technology and services that contribute to solving social issues, such as global environmental problems, the declining birth rate and aging, and that this will lead to employment. Together with our promotion of "green jobs" and, in the fields of healthcare and nursing, regulatory reform and human resource development measures, we aim to link this to the creation of new employment.

In cooperation with ILO and other international agencies, we also aim to provide various knowledge and make a positive contribution to creating new employment opportunities that will lead to Decent Work.

4. Conclusion

Since ancient times in Japan, the act of working has been seen not only as a means of earning wages, but also as something that brings a sense of achievement in being able to make things, or of joy in being of use to society.

I think this is fundamentally linked to the concept of "Decent Work". Finding one's own space in work that is motivating and human, feeling pride in the role to play. I'm sure this is also the case in your countries.

As well as the financial aspect of supporting people's lives and making them more affluent, employment also has the social significance of providing people with their own "space" and "pride" through their work. Reviving the "large middle class" also carries the significance of creating opportunities for each individual to manifest his or her own abilities.

In the global economy, the "middle class" faces a variety of challenges. However, it will certainly not be impossible to conceive and take steps to achieve economy and society in which the middle class is getting larger. To achieve this, it is essential that we protect the quality of employment, broaden our safety net, and value investment in people - in other words, make Decent Work the basis. Then, it will mean aiming for a society which does not fix disparity and not generate poverty, even while aiming to expand the economic pie through growth but without making that an end in itself; it will mean achieving a society in which opportunities for social participation and the fruits of economic growth are available to everyone.

Starting from this domestic revival of our "large middle class", Japan will continue to contribute to its expansion in the rest of the world. For a future that is sustainable even into coming generations, let us strive together for development in Asia and the Pacific region, development in which all people can feel hope and pride.

Finally, I will close this address in the hope that much meaningful discussion will be held in this Meeting, and with a prayer for the further development and good health of everyone taking part today.

Thank you very much for listening.

Page Top

Related Link