In a new look at why more than half the world's workforce cannot earn enough to lift themselves and their families out of extreme poverty, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) will consider possible solutions that can generate productive employment and decent work as it opens its annual session in Geneva on Monday.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a report to the Council, said the issue is not just about jobs, but about employment that can generate sufficient income for individuals and households to move out of poverty. “Greater attention, therefore, needs to be paid to decent work, defined as opportunities for men and women to obtain productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.”
At present, about half of the world's work force lives in extreme poverty, is unable to earn enough to lift themselves and their families above the $2 a day poverty line. Despite major economic growth in many regions, the total number of “working poor” has remained virtually unchanged over the last decade at 1.4 billion.
The employment issue has gained momentum ever since national leaders from across the globe agreed at last year's UN World Summit that tackling the employment problem was essential to meeting the antipoverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). ECOSOC, which will open with a three-day ministerial session, will aim to influence countries and UN activities in pursuit of employment friendly policies. Its high-level discussions are expected to result in a joint agreement outlining the steps that countries can take, individually and collectively, to create more productive employment opportunities.
In his report, Mr. Annan said the number of unemployed, globally, is increasing and in 2005, about 192 million people were out of work. But three times as many people are working at jobs that do not allow them to escape from extreme poverty of an income equivalent to $2 a day. Most of the working poor labour in rural areas and in the urban informal sector which now comprises one-half to three-quarters of non-agricultural employment in developing countries. Almost half of the world's unemployed are young people, even though youth make up only a quarter of the working-age population.
The report found that countries face the difficult task of creating and upgrading jobs at a time when the effective supply of labor has grown due to globalization, the participation of more people in the labor force and growing populations, particularly in many developing countries.
Reviewing also the international economic situation, the session will hear from ranking officials from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and others at the UN. And at a time when the UN is implementing important reforms, the Council will consider new measures that will allow it to play a more aggressive role in addressing development issues, as well as determining whether the UN can, or should, restructure itself to better confront development challenges.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg will present keynote addresses on the employment problem, along with Tunisian Labour Minister Chadli Laroussi and Juan Somavía, Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO).
ECOSOC coordinates the work of the 14 UN specialized agencies, 10 functional commissions and 5 regional commissions, receives reports from ten UN funds and programmes and issues policy recommendations to the UN system and to Member States. The 54-member Council meets every year, alternating between New York and Geneva. The President of this year's Council is Ambassador Ali Hachani of Tunisia.