CDB-ILO symposium: Short and long-term measures required for sustained post-crisis recovery

Consensus on recovery measures to encourage a return to economic and employment growth in the wake of the global economic crisis and a limited fiscal space, was reached among representatives of ministries of finance, labour, employers’ and workers’ organizations, development partners and academia

News | 01 February 2011
Consensus on recovery measures to encourage a return to economic and employment growth in the wake of the global economic crisis and a limited fiscal space, was reached among representatives of ministries of finance, labour, employers’ and workers’ organizations, development partners and academia, following a Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and International Labour Organization (ILO) Tripartite Caribbean Symposium held on 25-26 January 2011 in Barbados.

Among the measures recommended were: social protection for the most vulnerable; the development of sustainable enterprises to support the creation of sustainable jobs; closer links between education and training and labour markets needs; and the strengthening of labour market information systems for policy-making and planning.

In the context of fiscal constraints and limited financial resources available to governments, which are already burdened by high debt, it was widely acknowledged that social dialogue between government, business and labour was critical for prioritizing the measures to be undertaken in the short, medium and long terms.

“The tenor of the discussions made it very clear that one could not approach labour issues in isolation; one had to think of the overall economic and social context in which labour markets function,” said Dr. Compton Bourne, President, CDB, at a media briefing.

Dr. Bourne cited the need for a two-pronged approach for addressing the labour market issues, in particular the problem of job loss and slow job creation. “It has to focus on the immediacy of trying to minimize loss of jobs through a variety of short-term measures but it must also address the long-term development and economic problem of the region. It is only through that can sustainable jobs be created at the requisite level,” he said.

Social protection measures for the most vulnerable affected by the crisis were highlighted. It was noted that some countries had already responded with such measures. For example, social protection programmes were strengthened and expanded (e.g. assistance to pensioners, school feeding programmes in Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Lucia). There was also the enhancement of benefits under conditional cash transfer programmes including with an emphasis on skills training for job placement (e.g. Jamaica), increases in the minimum wage (e.g. in Trinidad and Tobago and Belize), and the introduction of unemployment benefits (e.g. The Bahamas).

It was broadly expressed by participants that inadequacies of the labour market had to be addressed in the medium- and long-term. In the area of employment and job creation, there was a key role for the development of small- and medium-sized enterprises, supported by an enabling business environment. Policies to promote economic growth while supporting employment creation were also cited as necessary for sustainable development. The importance of ensuring that the workforce was equipped with the requisite skills and competencies, through education and training, to respond to the needs of the labour market was emphasized, particularly in the midst of high youth unemployment rates in the region.

The dearth of labour statistics available for informed decision-making in most countries, pointed to the need for a comprehensive approach to developing an up-to-date, harmonized labour market information system. Moreover, it was recommended that perhaps an early warning system could be created at the regional level, similar to that employed for weather systems, to assist in anticipating external economic shocks, such as the crisis.

Other measures put forward for strengthening the labour market included: diversification of the economy; revision of labour laws to protect workers and employers; and synchronized development financing to support employment-friendly policies. On the latter, the ILO has been engaging with other international agencies, international financial institutions and developed countries such as those of the G20, to strengthen policy coherence and to deepen development assistance for countries with restricted fiscal space to respond to the crisis. A Global Jobs Pact was developed in 2009 as a framework for countries and the multilateral system to address the employment and social impacts of the crisis.

“This symposium was a regional expression of the process that the ILO has undertaken at the international level, " said Dr. Ana Teresa Romero, Director, ILO Office for the Caribbean. “The ILO and the IMF had discussions in Oslo in 2010 to discuss the ways in which the economic situation in the world could be addressed while looking at the social aspects…using the decent work approach.”

“The Meeting was exceptional as it brought together not only ministers and senior officials of the finance and labour ministries, but also academia and the actors in the real economy – representatives of employers’ and workers’ organizations, " concluded Dr. Romero.

The Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL) and the Caribbean Employers’ Confederation (CEC) were high in praise of the CDB and the ILO for convening such an important high-level Meeting and supported efforts for constructive engagement through social dialogue.

The CDB-ILO Tripartite Caribbean Symposium was opened on 25 January 2011 with a feature address delivered by Dr. the Honourable Esther Byer-Suckoo, Minister of Labour, Barbados. Other speakers at the opening were Dr. Compton Bourne, President of the CDB, Sir Roy Trotman, Worker Vice-Chair of the Governing Body of the ILO, Mr. Marcel Mayer, President, CEC and Senator David Massiah, President of the CCL.