Habibah Hermanadi, Intern staff at ASEAN Studies Center UGM
The road to a complete economic integration promoting higher productivity and trade activity for ASEAN is filled with challenges and opportunities. Gradually, within the Economic Blueprint ASEAN aims for a deeper economic and political integration. Theoretically, this transition equals to ASEAN’s movement towards Custom Union and deeper will be better, as simplified and more harmonized border procedures facilitate trade, common product standards enable longer production runs, and a common competition policy serves to unify the market (Basu Das, Sen, and Srivastava, 2015). However, a very important question must be answered by each ASEAN states in regards of who will be benefited from ASEAN economic community? If the changes focused only for capital holders then this integration would definitely neglected the community, the people, hence the labors.
One of the pillars which were introduced by AEC’s pillars is endorsing the free flows of services; the point emphasized on the free flow the free flow of goods, services, investments, capital, and skilled labor. Alongside to other technical difficulties among ASEAN states in terms of infrastructure, state stability, and other political aspects, deepening the scope of competition without any preparation only leads to a detrimental point for labors, if not the community is not free from exploitation possibilities (Chia, 2013).
Naturally, through all of the changes ASEAN must not allow opportunistic actors to perform a race to the bottom where due to open opportunities states will try attracting corporations and will seize the action by reducing social welfare of labors (Suranovic, 2010). This particular transition should not lead us to a condition where labors became the victim of big corporations and international laws. The danger of race of the bottom is real, not only it will undermine the ASEAN’s aim for the community it will be a prescription towards widened income gap between the rich and the poor, inexistence of job security among ASEAN people, and in AEC will be utilized for massive multinational corporations to milk the benefits of the free flow and hurts the small to medium enterprises which represents almost 90% of ASEAN’s source of employments (Palatino, 2014), not to mention killing opportunities for low skilled workers, traditional and agricultural industries.
This is the part where ASETUC (ASEAN Services Employees Trade Union Council) must play its role and should be strengthened. ASETUC as a representative legal platform of regional labor union must be able to perform its duty in protecting the welfare of labors within the region. It is only necessary for the union to enforce the fundamental principles and rights of work ratified by the International Labor Organization (ILO, 2002) for both local and migrant workers.
Through this representation, unions showed its participation in defining the fates of ASEAN labors, more importantly in negotiating their terms with the government and employers. A balance within the economic integration shall bridge the needs of capital and labor movements in order to pursue the desired collective development without violating the differences each state have (Felipe and Hasan, 2006). Regardless of the differences, what must be seen in this context is that labor welfare stand on the same ground, and only if they were involved within the union ASEAN labors would recognize their bargaining position. Lastly, the reinforcement of ASETUC will be obsolete without the commitments of ASEAN members. Each state also have their own homework in order to assure the increasing quality of labors within the region, expand the social security programs, and in accordance to the ASEAN Socio-Cultural that governments should invest in workers’ education, lifelong learning, and skills development programs.
Basu Das, S., Sen, R., & Srivastava, S. (2015). The Feasibility of an ASEAN Customs Union Post- 2015. Institute of South East Asian Studies, (13), 5-7.
Chia, S. (2013). The ASEAN Economic Community: Progress, Challenges, and Prospects. Asian Development Bank Institute, (440), 4-8.
Felipe, J., & Hasan, R. (2006). Labor markets in Asia: Issues and perspectives (1st ed.). Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Suranovic, S. M. (2010). A Moderate Compromise: Economic policy choice in an era of globalization (1st ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
The International Labour Organization’s fundamental conventions. (2002). Geneva: International Labour Office.
Palatino, M. (2015, May 05). Who Will Benefit from the ASEAN Economic Community? Retrieved February 10, 2016, from<http://thediplomat.com/2015/05/who-will-benefit-from-the-asean-economic-community/>