Addressing the global need to create 600 million new jobs by 2030 is considered key to promoting prosperity, tackling poverty and protecting the planet.

Promoting safe, dignified and fairly paid jobs for all will be crucial to the success of the new global sustainable development agenda that will be adopted this September, national leaders and labor experts in New York emphasized this week at a three-day event grappling with the challenge of under- and unemployment.

The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) meeting, attended by a president, two prime ministers and many ministers, eminent economists and business and trade union leaders, and co-organized by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), highlighted that employment was vital to eradicating poverty, promoting prosperity, protecting the planet and the wellbeing of present and future generations.

There are currently more than 200 million people unemployed globally, with millions more working in poor conditions. The ILO estimates that the global economy needs to create 600 million new jobs by 2030. In addition, there is a need to lift another existing 800 million working poor above the $2 a day for themselves and their families as well as make sure the increase in the working age population secure decent jobs.

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said the deliberations had illustrated “the inextricable link between decent work and sustainable development,” adding that he was “encouraged by the wide support of Member States and actors of the real economy calling for decent work to be central to the UN’s new inclusive, equitable and sustainable development.”

ECOSOC Vice-President Vladimir Drobnjak who chaired the meeting, stressed the importance of breaking “the silos separating interrelated issues such as decent work, poverty eradication, industrialization, women’s empowerment and the promotion of trade and investment.”

Environmental sustainability and job creation were mutually reinforcing, Drobnjak said, pointing out that transition to more environmentally sustainable approaches can have a positive impact on job creation, quality and productivity.

Drobnjak also announced that a joint ECOSOC-ILO ‘Global Network of Stakeholders on Employment Creation and Decent Work for Sustainable Development’ would be launched following the meeting to facilitate practical follow-up and help tackle unemployment, described as a “challenge of monumental proportions.”

Youth unemployment demands attention
Nobel Prize-winning economist Prof. Joseph Stiglitz highlighted the importance of youth unemployment, an issue that in his view is “not emphasized as much as it should be.” UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson agreed: “The world is caught in an employment crisis, and our youth is bearing the brunt,” he said, explaining that there are as many as 73 million young people looking for work globally, and a young person is three times more likely than an adult to be jobless.

Daniel Funes de Rioja, President of the International Organization of Employers, commented on the importance of tackling “the mismatch between education and the labour market” by better aligning education systems with employers’ needs and promoting apprenticeships, including through the founding of a global apprenticeship network. Speaking on behalf of the 176 million members of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), its General Secretary Sharan Burrow stated that a living minimum wage was a basic human right and that we need to ensure that “decent work is at the heart of a genuinely dignified future.”

Meanwhile, Perry Gladstone Christie, Prime Minister of the Bahamas, placed emphasis on “innovation and creativity; digital literacy and entrepreneurship” to tackle the youth unemployment crisis also affecting the Caribbean region.

The importance of decent work
The ECOSOC meeting, which brought together a wide range of actors confronting issues that cut across various areas of work, made a clear distinction between employment and decent work, with speakers underlining the importance of working in safety and dignity, for a fair wage. “Half of the world’s employed people are not getting access to decent work,” said Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden, adding that many faced exploitative or even dangerous conditions and that “some two million people die at work every year”.

Löfven called on fellow Member States to ratify and respect ILO conventions and to honour trade union rights to “increase both productivity and safety at work,” while Jakaya Kikwete, President of the United Republic of Tanzania, made special mention of the dominance of informal employment in his region, claiming that “it is in the best interest of the economy of countries in Africa to formalize the informal sector.”

The road ahead
The ECOSOC meeting comes as countries are gearing up for the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa this July, the Sustainable Development Summit in New York, and the climate negotiations in Paris. The need for green growth ensures dignified employment for all is at the heart of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.