6 February 2008
Economic and Social Council
SOC/4737

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission for Social Development

Forty-sixth Session

2nd & 3rd Meetings* (AM & PM)


‘JOBLESS GROWTH’, SHIFT TO INFORMAL ECONOMIES, NEED FOR STRONGER PROTECTION


FOR WORKERS AMONG ISSUES, AS SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION OPENS SESSION


Argentine Minister of Labour, Employment, Social Protection Delivers Keynote;

Panel Discussion Focuses on ‘Promoting Full Employment and Decent Work for All’


With the phenomenon of “jobless growth” becoming more pronounced as world economies boom, but can’t generate enough decent employment to lift people out of extreme poverty, the Commission for Social Development today opened its forty-sixth session aiming to devise policy options and practical measures that States could use to implement internationally-agreed goals for full employment and productive work.


The 46-member Commission, meeting at Headquarters through 15 February, is wrapping up its 2007-2008 implementation cycle with the current policy segment devoted to “promoting full employment and decent work for all”.  The outcome of the Commission’s forty-fifth session, the implementation cycle’s review segment, identified constraints, best practices and possible approaches for achieving full employment and reversing trends towards low-paying, insecure and temporary jobs.


Along with its consideration of practical measures Governments could take to promote decent work together with economic growth, the Commission is expected to discuss employment trends for women and youths, and to tackle an emerging issue:  mainstreaming disability into the development agenda.  It will also continue its follow-up to the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted by the 1995 World Summit for Social Development, and review the preliminary findings of the first review and appraisal of the 2002 Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing.


Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that close examination of the employment situation in developed and developing countries revealed “worrisome trends”, especially that, despite robust rates of economic growth, macroeconomic and social polices were failing to generate enough decent jobs.  Indeed, from 1996 to 2006, global gross domestic product (GDP) had grown by 3.8 per cent, per year, but, during the same decade, the unemployment rate had remained unchanged, at around 6 per cent.


“There is greater economic insecurity for most workers,” he continued, stressing that unemployment rates were still high in many developing countries, and that underemployment persisted worldwide as formal economies continued to shift into informal ones.  Further, in an ever more globalized world, low-skilled, poorly educated workers were being especially hard hit by those trends, he said, stressing that the social exclusion of certain groups subjected them to the “real-life consequences” of higher unemployment rates exacerbated by chronic underemployment.


“This is especially true for women and youth, but also for older workers, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and migrants,” he said, noting that the Commission’s deliberations during this session were therefore highly relevant.  Its discussions on youth would feed directly into those deliberations, especially since young people worldwide were three times as likely to be unemployed as adults.  Recent reports had also spotlighted serious difficulties for youth from all regions in making the transition from school to decent work, he added.


He said the 2005 World Summit had been a milestone on the path towards creating a “society for all”.  With that in mind, the Commission had a critical opportunity this year to help translate the Summit’s global commitment to social development into national development strategies, by generating sound policy recommendations.  “It is incumbent upon you to ensure that follow-up action on employment continue in the United Nations intergovernmental process after the closing of this session,” he said.


In a similar vein, keynote speaker Carlos Tomada, Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Protection of Argentina, said the ideas and strategies backed by the United Nations reflected those that had underpinned Argentina’s economic recovery, including the importance of training and skills building to adapt to change, and the reconfiguration of social protections to promote inclusion.  Argentina had been among the first countries to enshrine the concept of decent work as one of the Millennium Development Goals, he added.


In Argentina, and in Latin America, development and “civilized modernity” were a means to achieving an economic model which integrated labour and social policies.  Governance and social order were inconceivable without employment for all.  Economic growth did not automatically lead to job creation, and the creation of work was fundamental to eradicating poverty.  In that context, he called for “salvaging the role of the State”; it was time to set aside “outmoded” policies that only served the market.


In that context, he urged Governments to be a “bridge” between job seekers and job providers, underscoring that Governments could not afford to be neutral in the search for jobs.  It was possible to develop an economic model that at once addressed globalization and took into account national specificities.


He favoured globalization underpinned by a “social project”:  the establishment of a “society of work”, or market economy that fostered companies that promoted social responsibility.  He further supported a “controlled liberalization” of trade, urging a balance among the State, the market and society.  Calling on all United Nations agencies to analyze programmes to protect employment, he also encouraged progressively expanding the concept of decent labour, based on the Copenhagen World Summit and United Nations resolutions.


In her opening remarks, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro stressed that, while adequately remunerated employment was a prerequisite for any effort to rise out of poverty, to be truly effective it must be reinforced by workplace security and social protection for workers and their families.  Protection of workplace rights promoted cohesion and equality, especially for vulnerable or marginalized groups, while expanded opportunities for civic participation through professional organizations achieved similar results.


To ensure that decent employment was at the centre of national development strategies, she called on States to design macroeconomic policies in a way that gave special priority to resolving the problem of long-term unemployment and underemployment of youth, women, persons with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups.  At the international level, policies in trade, finance and labour should be evaluated on the basis of their impact on employment and decent work. 


To advance the decent work agenda as part of the broader development agenda, she called for a coherent approach that involved cooperation with all United Nations entities, the International Labour Organization (ILO), civil society and the private sector.  Echoing Mr. Sha’s sentiments, she hoped the Commission’s session would produce recommendations on specific policies at the national and international levels to advance the decent work agenda and its contribution to poverty eradication and social integration.


Reporting on yesterday’s Civil Society Forum on “Decent Work, For A Decent Life”, Sister Burke, Chairperson of the NGO Committee on Social Development, said that the longer vulnerable groups such as women, older persons and persons with disabilities were excluded from decent, productive work, the longer broad social advancement initiatives would flounder and the longer social justice for all would be jeopardized.


Civil society believed that promotion of decent work required, among other things, recognition of the dignity of work and of the worker; that women be accorded equal rights in the workplace as workers; that persons with disabilities be mainstreamed into labour markets; and that education, including informal education, be enhanced to ensure young people could more easily transition from school to the workplace.


In other business, the Commission elected two Vice-Chairpersons, Sonja Anna Kreibich ( Germany) and Bertin Babadoudou ( Benin).  The Bureau also decided that Vice-Chairperson Zhang Dad (China) –- elected earlier along with Jelena Pia-Comella (Andorra) and Ignacio Llanos (Chile) -- would also assume the responsibilities of Rapporteur for the Commission’s forty-sixth session.


The Commission also adopted its agenda for the session, and Johan Schölvinck, Director, Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the reports before the Commission.


A panel discussion on “promoting full employment and decent work for all” capped the Commission’s first day of work.  It featured experts:  Sudha Pillai of the Ministry of Labour and Employment of India; Sanja Crnković-Pozaić, Director of the SMEs and Entrepreneurship Policy Centre of Croatia; Daniel Funes de Rioja, Vice-Chairperson of the International Labour Organization Governing Body and Chairperson of the Employers’ Group of Argentina; Gladys Branche, of the Sierra Leone Labour Congress; and Vladimír Špidla, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. 


Panel moderator, Assane Diop, Executive Director of the Social Protection Sector of the International Labour Organization, shared many of the concerns of the other experts, including that the prospect of a continued credit squeeze hampering growth would seriously impact the world’s working poor.  He believed that stronger systems of social security, especially for older people and youth, were part of a needed “global rebalancing” that could help avoid a global slowdown.  Minimum wages were needed to ensure that those at the bottom of the pay pyramid could receive the dividends of growth, he added.


Delegations participating in the discussion stressed the need to ensure some form of social protection for all workers, particularly as informal sectors continued to grow.  Some called for examples of ways informal sector jobs could be “regularized”.  Others cautioned depending on trade to create decent jobs, particularly when the current inequitable trade dynamic made it so difficult for entrepreneurs from the developing world to compete.  One speaker expressed concern about the challenges developing countries faced in targeting their education and skills training programmes, particularly as development dollars dwindled and labour market demands could not necessarily be predicted.


The Commission for Social Development will meet again Thursday, 7 February, at 10 a.m., to begin its general discussion on the priority theme:  promoting full employment and decent work for all.


Background


The Commission for Social Development met this morning to begin its forty-sixth regular session, which is expected to take up the issues of employment, ageing, disability and youth among its issues of discussion, under the main theme of “Promoting full employment and decent work for all” (for background information, see Press Release SOC/4736 of 1 February).


Chairman’s Opening Remarks


Opening the session, Chairman of the Commission for Social Development ALEXEI TULBUR ( Moldova) said the presence of the Deputy Secretary General testified to the importance that the Secretary-General attached to social development issues.  Noting that today marked the first policy session under the new methods of work, he said that last year’s review session concluded that “failure to address unemployment and lack of decent work posed a threat to humanity, stability and world peace”.  The current policy session provided a “unique” opportunity to develop concrete policy options to facilitate implementation of the goal of full and productive employment and decent work at the national level.


As the task ahead was of paramount importance, achieving it required a negotiated outcome with action-oriented strategies, which should identify practical measures to facilitate the achievement of full employment, he said.  A follow-up mechanism was also needed to ensure accountability for commitments.  He urged delegates to fulfil the expectations of people for whom decent work was often the only way to escape poverty and integrate into mainstream society.


Deputy Secretary-General


In her opening remarks, Deputy Secretary-General ASHA-ROSE MIGIRO said the United Nations depended on the Commission to help ensure that social considerations guided its work in all areas of development.  Through the landmark World Summit for Social Development, the Commission had helped to usher in a more people-centred approach to development.


“Decent, productive employment is a basic building block for social development,” she said, which was why Governments at the Copenhagen World Summit had pledged to prioritize the goal of full employment in economic and social policies.  Decent work was also crucial for poverty eradication and social integration, two other goals identified at the Summit.


Adequately remunerated employment was a prerequisite for any effort to rise out of poverty, she continued, but to be truly effective it must be reinforced by workplace security and social protection for workers and their families.  Protection of workplace rights promoted cohesion and equality, especially for vulnerable or marginalized groups, while expanded opportunities for civic participation through professional organizations achieved similar results.


While the earlier review session concluded that productive and appropriately remunerated employment was effective in combating poverty and fostering social cohesion, the current policy session could yield concrete recommendations on specific policy options.  To ensure that decent employment was at the centre of national development strategies, she called on States to design macroeconomic policies in a way that gave special priority to resolving the problem of long-term unemployment and underemployment of youth, women, persons with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups.


At the international level, policies in trade, finance and labour should be evaluated on the basis of their impact on employment and decent work.  To advance the decent work agenda as part of the broad development agenda, she called for a coherent approach that involved cooperation with all United Nations entities, the International Labour Organization, civil society and the private sector.


She hoped that the current policy session would produce recommendations on specific policies at the national and international levels to advance the decent work agenda and its contribution to poverty eradication and social integration.  She also urged developing a follow-up mechanism to monitor progress.


Remarks by Under-Secretary-General


SHA ZUKANG, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that close examination of the employment situation in developed and developing countries revealed “worrisome trends”, especially that macroeconomic and social polices had not succeeded in generating adequate employment.  Globally, despite robust rates of economic growth, employment creation was not keeping up with the growth of the working population.  From 1996 to 2006, global gross domestic product (GDP) had grown by 3.8 per cent, per year, but, during the same decade, the unemployment rate had remained unchanged, at around 6 per cent.


Meanwhile, employment conditions were getting worse, as the world confronted serious labour market challenges, he continued.  “There is greater economic insecurity for most workers,” he said, stressing that unemployment rates were still high in many developing countries, and that underemployment persisted and the transformation from formal to informal economies continued.  Further, in an ever more globalized world, workers with low education and low skills had been especially hard hit by those trends, characterized by increased income inequality.  He added that social exclusion of certain groups had subjected them to the real-life consequences of higher unemployment rates coupled with chronic underemployment.


“This is especially true for women and youth, but also for older workers, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and migrants,” he said, stressing that the Commission’s deliberations during this session were highly relevant to the lives of people around the world.  The Commission’s discussions on youth would feed directly into those deliberations.  Especially since, worldwide, young people were three times as likely to be unemployed as adults.  He said that the recently launched World Youth Report 2007:  Young People’s Transition to Adulthood, Progress and Challenges, had spotlighted difficulties for youths of all regions in making the transition from school to decent work. 


Such difficulties stemmed not only from a lack of jobs, but from the gap between the skills acquired in school and those demanded by the labour market.  Addressing that issue required macroeconomic polices that created jobs, improved social policies in the areas of education and health, as well as access to information and communication technologies.  Adding that the Commission’s discussions in those areas would benefit from the presence of young people in attendance, he urged youth representatives and representatives of youth-led organizations “not to be shy” about telling delegations about their experiences, or about sharing their ideas for tackling youth unemployment.


He went on to urge the Commission not to overlook discrimination of older persons as it discussed productive employment for all.  Such discrimination remained widespread across most countries and especially in labour markets.  This session would conclude the first cycle of review and appraisal of the landmark Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, adopted in 2002.  In his view, the international community had fallen far short when it came to realizing the great opportunity that population ageing presented for development.  “We need to redouble our efforts to bring the vision of the Madrid Plan to life,” he said, adding that he was heartened that the Commission planned to take up, as an “emerging issue”, the mainstreaming of disabilities into the development agenda.  It would be extremely difficult to cut poverty in half by 2015 unless the world’s approximately 600 million persons with disabilities were brought into the development mainstream.


He said that the United Nations 2005 World Summit had been a milestone on the path towards the creation of a “society for all”.  With that in mind, he said that the Commission had a critical opportunity to catalyze the translation of the Summit’s global commitment to social development into national development strategies, by generating action-oriented policy recommendations.  “It is incumbent upon you to ensure that follow-up action on employment continue in the United Nations intergovernmental process after the closing of this session,” he said, urging the Commission to make the most of its new multi-year work programme.  He said that the Commission could help shape the United Nations response to emerging issues in a way that strategically advanced implementation of the broader development agenda.


Statements


JOHAN SCHÖLVINCK, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced agenda item 3, first drawing attention to item 3(a), the Secretary-General’s report (E/CN.5/2008/4).  The report addressed a policy framework for achieving full employment and decent work by examining:  macroeconomic policies; enterprise and rural development, education, training and skills; social protection; and regulatory policies. 


According to the report, achieving such goals was integral to meeting internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, and provided recommendations that underscored the importance of making full employment and decent work central to national and international policies.  It urged promoting greater coherence between sectoral and macroeconomic policies, and adopting integrated strategies for employment generation at the national, regional and local levels.  It encouraged Governments to promote enterprise development, consider extending social protection to workers in the informal economy, and promote a “global social floor” consisting of universal child benefits, among other services.  Attention must also be given to developing appropriate institutions, and implementing labour laws that protect workers’ rights.


In that context, it was important that the United Nations be encouraged to pursue a more effective mainstreaming of full employment and decent work goals into its policies, he continued.  A separate report of the Secretary-General encouraged Governments to prepare national action plans on youth employment and to move such plans to the implementation stage.


He referred next to the Secretary-General’s note (E/CN.5/2008/8*), saying that it highlighted the link between gender-based discrimination and inequality, and violence against women.  It summarized both progress and challenges to narrowing the gender gap, and provided employment-related policy recommendations to intensify efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women.


Under agenda item 3(b), he introduced the Secretary-General’s report entitled “First review and appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing:  Preliminary Assessment” (document E/CN.5/2008/7), and the Secretary-General’s note on “Regional implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002” (document E/CN.5/2008).  Both documents outlined ageing-specific programmes and policies introduced in various countries to address ageing issues.


Discussing the Madrid Plan, he recalled that regional commissions had conducted a review of the Plan and identified priorities for further action.  He was looking forward to the 8 February panel on ageing, with participation of the executive secretaries of the regional commissions to learn about key findings.  An important question remained:  What were the next steps in implementing long-term measures, such as the Madrid Plan, and normative steps at the international level?  He urged a redoubling of efforts to link ageing to other frameworks for social and economic development and human rights.  Ageing polices should be a key part of broad-based development efforts, and national budgets should envisage allocating more funds for ageing programmes.


Turning to agenda item 3(c), he highlighted a note by the Secretariat (E/CN.5/2008/6), which provided an overview of the background, practicalities and resources related to mainstreaming disability in the development agenda.  It represented a small part of the existing guidance on those issues vis-à-vis the international development agenda.  Further, it aimed to aid the work of Governments, international organizations, among others, that were working with renewed vigour towards the goal of equality following the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006.


Reporting on yesterday’s Civil Society Forum “Decent Work, for a Decent Life”, Sister BURKE, Chairperson of the NGO Committee on Social Development, said that, when people were put at the centre of efforts to ensure productive work for all, the international community took the first step in ensuring a decent life for all people.  The Commission had an opportunity this year to build on the work begun at Copenhagen in 1995, especially towards reversing the inequities facing many social groups, including women and persons with disabilities.  She added that the search for decent work was also a key driving force for migrant workers and migrants worldwide.


She said that climate change was also bound to affect world labour markets, while at the same time creating new entrepreneurial opportunities.  She urged the Commission to work with civil society to create “green pathways out of poverty”.  The Commission should seek to achieve policy coherence and integrate the decent work agenda into national and global polices, especially to help address the pressing needs of people living in extreme poverty.  She said that the promotion of decent work and full employment for all required, among other things, that the dignity of work and of the worker be recognized; that women be accorded equal rights in the workplace as workers; that persons with disabilities be mainstreamed into labour markets; and that education, including non-formal education, be enhanced to ensure young people could more easily transition from school to the workplace. 


The longer vulnerable groups were excluded from decent, productive work, the longer efforts to promote social advancement would flounder and the longer social justice for all would be jeopardized.  She urged the Commission to consider additional ways to strengthen in its work towards achieving concrete results, including by reviewing its priority themes at regular intervals and by exploring the possibility of electing at least some members of the Bureau for two years, to ensure greater coherence between the two-year work cycles.  Decent work should be at the heart of the United Nations development agenda, so that all the people of the world could contribute equally and effectively to society, she declared.


Keynote Address


CARLOS TOMADA, Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Protection of Argentina, said the ideas outlined in the Secretary-General’s report reflected those that had underpinned Argentine economic recovery, including the importance of training and skills building to adapt to change, and the reconfiguration of social protections to promote inclusion.   Argentina had been among the first countries to enshrine the concept of decent work as one of the Millennium Development Goals.


He said that Argentina had seen the continued improvement of all economic and social factors, including sustained growth of nearly 9 per cent per year over the last five years.  Poverty had fallen, due to a 25 per cent drop in unemployment at the end of 2007, and the country’s growth reflected the quality of jobs created.  As history had shown, economic growth based on unsafe labour conditions carried high social costs, and only a few stood to benefit from such situations.


Moreover, Argentina had undertaken structural changes to overcome its history of “cyclical policies”, as events in Mexico, Asia and the Russian Federation had a dramatic effect on the economy.  He called for creating a harmonious economy that promoted fair economic growth, which reconciled both internal and external factors.  He drew attention to various lessons learned, saying that debate on social issues was urgent, and that the Commission was the appropriate forum for achieving consensus.


In Argentina, and in Latin America, development and “civilized modernity” were not an end, but rather a means to achieving an economic model that integrated labour and social policies.  Governance and social order were inconceivable without employment for all.  Economic growth did not automatically lead to job creation, and the creation of work was fundamental to eradicating poverty.  In that context, he called for “salvaging the role of the State”, and generating solid State income by placing taxes on exports.  It was time to set aside “outmoded” policies that only served the market.  Social dialogue must have repercussions not only among countries, but also international organizations.


Strengthening labour institutions and improving worker conditions were among the main strands of labour policy, he continued.  Improving labour institutions was a complex task.  It could not be achieved by “mimicking” past experience, but rather by creating institutions that reflected national specificities.  In Argentina, the number of workers covered by collective bargaining had tripled, while salary increases had helped to stimulate demand, and in turn, spur production and job creation.  The challenge was to improve the quality of employment, and women and youth must be considered in that regard.


Urging Governments to be a “bridge” between job seekers and job providers, he said Argentina had established a national network for public employment services.  Governments could not afford to be neutral in the search for jobs.  In the context of corporate social responsibility and decent work, he called for employing persons with special needs.  On the informal sector, he said addressing the issue meant combating exclusion and improving income distribution.  It was among the most complex issues to be addressed in his region, and differentiated policies were needed.


It was possible to develop an economic model that addressed globalization and took into account national specificities, he asserted, urging States to ensure that globalization was underpinned by a “social project”:  the establishment of a “society of work”, or market economy that fostered the creation of companies that promoted social responsibility.  The society of work was fundamental to democratizing the global economy.  He supported a “controlled liberalization” of trade, and urged achieving a balance among the State, the market and society.


Full employment and decent work for all enjoyed the greatest consensus among international organizations, he said.  It was a common goal.  In that context, he acknowledged the work of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in ensuring that social and labour policies were integrated into sustainable economic policies.  He called on all United Nations agencies to analyze programmes to protect employment.  In closing, he underscored progressively expanding the concept of decent labour, based on the Copenhagen World Summit and United Nations resolutions.


Discussion


Following Mr. Tomada’s address, the representative of the Union Movement of Argentina said that during the 1990s his country had been considered a “model neo-liberal economy”.  But the resultant round of deregulation had plunged the economy into chaos at the beginning of the new century.  But, workers associations had joined with the Government to launch a social dialogue, often drawing on the expertise of the International Labour Organization to find solutions.  This helped ensure decent work for all and boost democracy at the same time.


Agreeing, the representative of the Executive Board of the Industrial Union of Argentina said that the country had turned to social dialogue to address economic political crises to ensure social harmony and consolidate those segments of industry that had not been plunged into crisis.  Turning to social dialogue had highlighted the benefits of cooperation between employers and employees.


He said that, today, employment figures were steady and salaries were on the rise.  Working together to reverse the economic crisis had also changed the nation’s mindset, and everyone now saw social dialogue as an instrument to drive change.  Indeed, cooperation between labour, civil society and the private sector was helping to close the skills gap, which was also helping to combat poverty.


Responding to questions from the floor, Mr. TOMADA said that his Government had welcomed the social dialogue that had followed his country’s economic crisis, even though differences had surfaced between workers unions and employers.  While that path had perhaps been the most “difficult and arduous”, the dialogue and collective bargaining schemes had helped bring the nation together by addressing issues in an open and action-oriented manner that were important to all sides.


He said that his Government was not setting itself up as some kind of model for others; Argentina believed in dialogue and exchange of ideas and experience.  He said that ensuring policy coherence had been key to the country’s turnaround and had led to the elaboration of polices that actually strengthened, rather than fractured, the economy.   Argentina believed that polices should be implemented by all “social partners” and should be targeted to stimulate economic growth and job creation.  He said that a political decision had been taken to forge and reconstruct social harmony with, rather than against, the workers, taking into account differences in opinion between workers and employers.  The Government had worked hard to build trust between those two sides and that trust had helped the country “get back on its feet”.


Panel Discussion


Opening the discussion, ASSANE DIOP, Executive Director of the Social Protection Sector of the International Labour Organization, said the Secretary-General’s background paper had outlined the recent history between the United Nations and ILO, as well as activities for the future.  Decent work was at the centre of people’s lives.  Social development was likely to be on the path that enabled women and men to enjoy freedoms that defined a fulfilling life.  Much of the international development agenda set out by the Copenhagen World Summit depended on the successful work of the Commission.  The contribution of decent work to the Millennium Development Goals was now recognized, however, the creation of good quality jobs was not at the forefront of policymaking.


Today, with the prospect of a continued credit squeeze impinging growth, the situation of the world’s working poor in the developing world was highlighted, he said.  Stronger systems of social security, especially for older people and youth, was part of a needed “global rebalancing” to avoid a global slowdown.  Minimum wages were needed to ensure that those at the bottom of the pay pyramid could receive the dividends of growth.


Decent work went hand in hand with social dialogue, he continued.  The European Union had made significant efforts vis-à-vis trade policy, and had initiated dialogue on social policy issues with emerging economies and regional organizations in Asia and Latin America.  Actions would be successful only if pursued in a partnership approach.


Following those remarks, panelist VLADIMIR ŠPIDLA, European Union Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, said decent work encompassed employment, workers’ rights, social dialogue and equal opportunities.  The European experience showed the added value of such an approach.  The Lisbon Strategy had further heightened the Union’s commitment to decent work, and followed the objective of an integrated approach.  It intended to combine the objectives of fairness and economic performance, while developing economic, employment, social and environmental policies.


Under such an approach, employment and social policy were seen as productive factors that helped improve competitiveness and social cohesion, he continued.  Concrete progress had been seen in the quality of employment and modernized social protection.  The Union was a unique regional entity with a strong social dimension, geared towards decent work based on:  mobility throughout the European Union for nationals and long-term legal residents; and policy coordination through such instruments as the European Employment Strategy and the European Social Fund.


The Union had achieved success vis-à-vis increased employment, improved working conditions and quality of work, and with regard to social dialogue and equal treatment for men and women.  Such policies applied to all member States, including those which recently had joined the Union.


In the context of globalization, the promotion of decent work was an asset for all countries and regions, he said.  It was a universal concept, however, that did not imply uniformity -- the promotion of decent work must take account of national context.  Investing in decent work constituted both a commitment to fairness, and a move to better economic performance, more effective public policy and better governance.


On fairness, he said where there was a shortage of decent work, the quality of life was lower.  That meant that half of the world’s population had no social protection.  In some countries, 80 to 90 per cent of the workforce was in the informal economy, contributing up to 60 per cent of local gross domestic product without having access to social protection.  There was also concern in some countries that working conditions were not improving, despite strong economic performance.


Decent work increased productivity, he explained, and improving worker’s circumstances created internal demand, which was necessary for economic growth.  Inequality had a negative effect on economic performance.   Europe’s experience had shown that investment in social cohesion was a factor in performance.  By reducing poverty, improving health and investing in human resources, productivity increased. 


According to ILO, it would take less than 2 per cent of world gross domestic product to provide minimum social coverage for the poor, and he urged States not to take a “low cost approach” to addressing such challenges.  An effective policy must combine macroeconomic, employment and social policies, which went hand-in-hand with social dialogue.


While there were shortcomings in the area of good governance, he said national authorities had the power to put in place proper labour market and social protection institutions, and employment policies.  Living and working conditions must be improved in the formal and informal economies.  Participation of international and regional organizations, social partners, non-governmental organizations and businesses must be encouraged.  There was “great potential” for mobilizing support for the decent work agenda, and progress must be made. 


Providing a snapshot of the employment situation in her country, SUDHA PILLAI, Ministry of Labour and Employment of India, said that, among other things, 54 per cent of India’s population was below the age of 25.  In addition, India had accorded a high priority to rights at work and social dialogue.  Those principles had been enshrined in constitutional provisions, laws and regulations.  She added that the Constitution also guaranteed freedom of association and freedom of expression.  Employment creation and skills development were at the heart of economic planning strategies, with a wealth of initiatives currently being implemented or in the works to create more and better jobs.


Turning to social protection, she highlighted legislation, including social security schemes and old-age pension plans, which ensured such protection.  By example, she noted that some 300 million people were currently set to benefit from the national health insurance scheme.  On skill development, she said that India’s Prime Minister had urged the Government to spare no efforts to ensure that, by 2012, 50 per cent of the workers entering the labour market were adequately skilled.  With that in mind, the Government had created a number of industrial training institutes, with the assistance of the World Bank.  She added that the Government also expected to increase access to information and communication technology training by 50,000 people over the next five years.


She went on to say that, in all this, the Government was aware that about 94 per cent of the country’s workforce was in the informal sector.  To address that serious concern, a comprehensive bill on providing social security, wages, insurance coverage and pension benefits was being weighed by the current session of the Indian Parliament.  The estimated cost of implementing that plan would be about $7.62 billion.


She told the Commission that India had village-level “social development commissions” that helped ensure that Government initiatives were actually implemented on the ground.  Looking ahead, she highlighted India’s 11th Five Year Plan (2007-2012), which called for, among other things, the acceleration of the country’s gross domestic product growth rate from 8 to 10 per cent during the period.   India also would strive to create some 70 million new work opportunities, raise the wages of unskilled workers by 20 per cent and reduce the number of educated unemployed persons by 5 per cent.


The next panellist, DANIEL FUNES DE RIOJA, Vice-Chairperson of the International Labour Organization Governing Body and Chairperson of the Employers’ Group of Argentina, said that recent reports on global employment trends made for “sobering reading”.  While world economies had grown exponentially, not enough jobs were being created.  Those that were created were more likely to be insecure, temporary and low-paying.  At the same time, the current global “credit crunch” was only making matters worse, especially as some countries believed that enacting protectionist policies was the best way to deal with that problem.  Such actions would, over time, reverberate worldwide.


He said that good governance, social inclusion and, among other things, skills training were among the key ways to ensure an economic growth that created jobs and lifted people out of poverty.  Sustainable social protection systems that were targeted to improve employment conditions and ensure social dialogue were other critical measures that could be taken.  Transparency was also important, as was the implementation of macroeconomic polices that promoted local-level investment.  He said Argentina could attest that taking some of those steps could lead to some measurable improvements.


In all that, he said it was important to remember that labour markets had changed and would continue to change.  Indeed, current trends could even intensify labour market transformations, especially taking into account the current and expected growth in China, India and other large developing countries.  With all that in mind, he said that polices needed to be put in place that helped ensure that those hurt by one reform benefited from another.  Such polices also needed to be more coherent.


Further, activities needed to be undertaken in an open and honest environment, with the participation of unions and civil society, as well as employers.  Such a cooperative paradigm, which promoted participation at all levels, was clearly the way forward.  Effective implementation of the broad policy framework he had highlighted required dialogue, partnership and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.  He stressed that the international community was at an important fork in the road:  “We must choose which direction to take.”


SANJA CMKOVIC-POZAIC, Director of CEPOR-SMEs and Entrepreneurship Policy Centre of Croatia, said that a main challenge for some countries was to retain, maintain and grow competitiveness in a global setting.  As States wanted to adapt quickly to changing market conditions and technology change, it would be important to do that without excluding certain groups in society.


Defining flexibility as the extent to which market forces determined labour market outcomes, and security as the ability to retain employability in a changing economic market, she said “flexicurity” was the art of finding a socially acceptable balance between the needs of adaptable enterprises and a long-term development strategy based on human resources.


In some Central and Eastern European countries, employment gains from growth remained low, and the “human factor” was the bottleneck of long-term growth, she continued.  Participation and employment rates were below the European Union average, and the incidence of non-employment was a major concern in nations such as Hungary and Bulgaria.  Wages were relatively low, except in Croatia, but non-wage labour costs were at or higher than the European Union average.


In thinking about employment, she said it was important to consider the fact that constant job change stunted employability.  Further, registered unemployment was over-reported and constituted a “dead weight” on efficient policies.  Describing labour market outcomes in Croatia following downsizing, she said 47 per cent of workers laid off had found new jobs, but 25 per cent of them were in the informal sector.  Some 40 per cent retired, but a “sizeable” share had returned to work, competing successfully with young workers.  The remaining 13 per cent had registered with the Employment Service.


Regarding social dialogue, she said trade unions were fragmented and employers’ associations were reluctant to set ethical standards.  There was relatively low capacity for dialogue, and the State often “manipulated” discussions.  On new trends in the legislature, she said international standards had been introduced in the definition of unemployment and labour market policies were more focused on vulnerable groups.


Regarding policies for enterprise development, she discussed legalizing existing informal activities, reducing the tax levied on new entrants to the labour markets, and introducing “creeping tax rates” after an initial grace period.  In addition, legislative frameworks should aim at reducing segmentation in the labour market.  She encouraged the integration of social, employment and development policies, ensuring a focus on human development and introducing drastic penalties for employers that hired workers illegally.  On the longer-term perspective for flexibility and security, she said the biggest challenge remained in the educational sector.  The speed now required for keeping up with changing knowledge and skill requirements was making the current system redundant.


GLADYS BRANCHE, of the Sierra Leone Labour Congress, speaking on behalf of the International Trade Union Confederation, pointed out that full employment and decent work for all were not new concepts.  The decent work agenda, formulated by ILO in 1995, ensured the promotion of full employment, poverty eradication and attainment of personal dignity.


Discussing the situation of workers today, she highlighted the 2005 World Summit resolution adopted by the General Assembly that expressed strong support for fair globalization.  The Millennium Development Goals and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers mentioned employment, but at a “very low scale”.  In 2006, the Economic and Social Council had reaffirmed equal opportunities for men and women as a condition of freedom, security and dignity.  However, those and other tools had, in large part, remained “words on paper”.


Workers today were unable to provide themselves with a livelihood as millions worked for less than $1 per day, she stressed.  The related causes included the unfair distribution of resources; policy incoherence; the gender gap; a lack of protection for the informal sector; State failure to understand and address the concept of decent work; and inadequate education.  She called for action.  The decent work agenda was a basic legal guarantee to promote a culture of job security, fair distribution of the gains from increased productivity, and equal opportunities for women and men, among other things.


Such progress could not be achieved by trade unions alone, she said, urging partnership among all stakeholders, policymakers and Governments.  She stressed a people-centred approach that involved social dialogue and tripartite decision-making.  Governments, policymakers and other institutions must make use of established ILO conventions, and other declarations aimed at creating full employment.  Ratification of those conventions would remain “theory” until States ensured their full implementation.  There must also be a monitoring process to determine good practice, and the violation of it.  Trade unions and others should identify areas of focus for increasing national and international dialogue.


Placing the decent work agenda “at the heart” of global and national policy would ensure that attaining an enabling economic environment, good governance and transparency, among other things, would inspire change in the lives of the poor, she said.


When Member States took the floor, questions were raised concerning, among others, the economic impact of growing informal employment sectors and “off the books” work, how best to train young workers to perform –- and compete –- in a labour environment that was currently driven largely by rapid changes in information and communications technology, and how to best combine social policies with economic objectives.  Concerned that several of the panellists had noted that informal employment in their countries made up 60 to 70 per cent of their respective work forces, one civil society representative wondered if the experts had any concrete figures on the number of jobs lost because of current trade liberalization trends.


Responding to several questions, Mr. SPIDLA said that the European Union was aware that increased informal employment affected the social fabric and was developing a relevant coherent strategy to address the phenomenon.  To questions about youth skills training, he said that the European Union backed life-long training to ensure that citizens were prepared to handle labour markets changes, as well as to take advantage of new opportunities when they changed jobs throughout their working lives.  He said the European Union had adopted an employment policy that cited young people, women and elderly persons as priorities.


Following that, a speaker from the Latin American and Caribbean region cautioned the experts that Governments often had their hands full tracking the “amorphous nature” of the informal sector, which included educated people trying to eke out a living in low-paying, unregulated jobs, to criminals working off the books to evade taxes.  She wondered if the experts could give concrete examples of ways to regularize informal sector jobs.


A speaker from the industrialized world agreed with the panel that international trade could be a way of stimulating growth leading to job creation.  But, the question was how to ensure the creation of decent work.  What social protection measures were most effective?  A speaker from the developing world noted, however, that the international trade environment was inequitable at present, so trade schemes –- the jobs they created and the entrepreneurship they supported –- were often undermined because workers from economically weak countries simply could not compete.  He believed equal attention should be paid to ensuring fair access to world goods and markets as a way of creating “decent work for all”.


A non-governmental organization representative said workers in developing countries fell into vulnerable situations, especially women.  He wondered whether Governments could do more to engage employers and workers’ associations with regard to policy.  While he welcomed European Union initiatives regarding decent work, he wondered whether the Commission had considered the decent work impacts of its work in other countries.  Did the speakers agree that decent work should be a matter for recurring debate, notably in the context of the collaborative work of the United Nations with the International Labour Organization?


Another representative wondered what the World Trade Organization had proposed vis-à-vis the general agreement on trade and services.  The trade union movement believed that the question of decent work should be kept on the United Nations agenda.


Responding, Mr. FUNES DE RIOJA said the informal sector could not be ignored.  A cohesive and coherent policy for good governance and education was needed, as was a flexible labour system with social protections that did not affect competitiveness.  The speed of technological change necessitated new answers.  In summary:  it was important to discuss issues in a cohesive way to develop a “strong battery” of policies.


Ms. PILLAI said India had taken a new decision that employers’ contribution of social security payments would be made by the Government.  Regarding youth, she said most training in formal institutes focused on youth.  Further, India’s policy encouraged self-employment and decentralized manufacturing, and the informal sector was not illegal.  Billions of dollars had been spent to make subsidies and loans available.


Ms. CMKOVIC-POZAIC said that, if policies which gave support to small enterprises were designed, then much would be done to sustain informal members of the economy.  Regarding education, she said it gave results in a delayed timeframe.  Importing people was a short-term policy to improve the supply-demand gap, but it could not deliver sustained long-term impacts.  Regarding the complexity that an integrated policy implied, she said, indeed, it placed huge requirements on the legislative machinery.  Flexible employment was also a question for the legislative system.


Ms. BRANCHE, turning to the issue of youth, said graduates sought jobs that would ensure a home in the fastest amount of time and they needed guidance.  Young people constituted a growing population, and she urged complete education and training.


Mr. DIOP, the moderator, took the floor to add that the minimum wage was not an indicator of decent work.  As to whether decent work had been addressed nationally, he said the concept was used nationally, and internationally, by institutions, including the European Union.  ILO had established a “toolbox” for how to link United Nations activities to the work of others and ensure policy coherence.  On ILO Convention 102, he said it was ratified by ILO, and no Government could say that it should be replaced.


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*     The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release SOC/4730 of 16 February 2007.


For information media • not an official record