At youth forum, UN labour chief warns of ‘growing discontent’

23 May 2012 – Addressing a youth employment forum, the head of the United Nations labour agency today warned of a “growing disconnect between people and policy, people and government.”

“Many people are saying ‘you are not taking my situation into account’ – this is particularly true in the case of youth and young people, whose feeling is often: ‘OK, you talk about our issues but we’re not there, we’re not there in the process,’” the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Juan Somavia, said in an address to young men and women attending the opening of an ILO Youth Employment Forum in Geneva.

Mr. Somavia also warned of growing discontent over the way the global economic crisis has been handled in Europe, while hailing developing countries that followed a different track and increased social protection.

The Youth Employment Forum brings together a hundred young men and women involved in the promotion of decent work for youth – including entrepreneurs, unionists and activists from youth organizations – to share their experiences and views on the current employment situation and discuss practical examples of successful initiatives which have led to the promotion of decent work for youth.

According to ILO, the world is facing a worsening youth employment crisis: young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults, and over 75 million youth worldwide are looking for work. The labour agency has warned of a “scarred” generation of young workers facing a dangerous mix of high unemployment, increased inactivity and precarious work in developed countries, as well as persistently high working poverty in the developing world.

In his remarks, Mr. Somavia said the growing discontent over the handling of the economic crisis is fuelling a global reaction.

“Many European countries stuck in an ‘austerity-led recession’ are looking at the crisis from a purely financial point of view, while the public is asking ‘What about us? We’re paying the cost for a crisis we had no responsibility whatsoever in producing,’” the ILO chief said.

By contrast, many developing countries “came out of the crisis quicker and with different policies than the developed economies that are still mired in the crisis,” Mr Somavia said. Those countries, he noted, took care of their debt years ago and did not need to borrow from the International Monetary Fund to confront the latest global economic crisis.

The labour chief hailed the young people at the Forum for “trying to change society for the better,” pointing out the difficulties involved.

“Is it worth it? Is it moving forward? Are we really changing anything?” Mr. Somavia said. “Is this activism having effect? Let me tell you, the answer is yes, it is yes, yes, yes.”

A small delegation from the Youth Employment Forum will stay on for ILO’s annual International Labour Conference, where the youth employment crisis is expected to feature prominently in discussions.

More than 5,000 government, employer and worker delegates from the ILO’s 183 member states are scheduled to attend the Conference, which will be held from 30 May to 15 June.


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