ILO Director-General Guy Ryder “Decent Work in the Era of Sustainable Development”

"If this agenda can become a reality in the next 15 years, we will be turning the tide back in the direction of social justice and assuring a sustainable and fairer society for us and our children", says ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

Statement | Helsinki, Finland | 13 June 2016
© Curt Carnemark / World Bank
President Halonen, Minister Lindström, representatives of the social partners, dear friends,

Coming to Finland, I thought I should enter into the spirit of things taking place in your country. So before coming here, I signed a “non-competitiveness pact” with the minister which means I won’t be speaking longer than him but I will try to be as interesting.

Ladies and gentlemen, first let me say what a pleasure it is to be here at the invitation of President Halonen and her foundation and the SASK. President Halonen, particularly through her co-chairing of the World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalization has contributed an enormous amount to the work of the ILO over recent years and I see the discussion we are having here today on the role of decent work in the 2030 Agenda as a natural continuation and some ways a product of the work that President Halonen was so instrumental in bringing about, so thank you very much for giving me the chance to say a few words in this important discussion.

Now, I understand it’s been a busy week in Finland, you’ve had a lot of conferences, a lot of interesting things have been said and been done. Don’t think in the ILO we were just sitting around doing nothing because we had our annual International Labour Conference as well over the last two weeks as we always do in June. One of the major features of the Conference most relevant to this afternoon was the discussion on what we call at the ILO the “End to Poverty Centenary Initiative” which is the ILO’s contribution to the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. I think my report to the Conference has been distributed to participants here.

In our plenary session, nearly 300 representatives from governments, employers and workers around the world made their contributions and spoke about what they think the ILO should be doing in respect of the 2030 Agenda’s implementation and perhaps more importantly those government, worker and employer representatives from around the world said what they intended to do in respect to the implementation of the Agenda.

I want to come back later to why I think that it is so important, because I consider national ownership of this agenda absolutely essential, and not only national ownership but national tripartite ownership.

Now the overarching goal of the 2030 Agenda – as you’re all aware – is the eradication of extreme poverty in the world.

To quote UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, this is the first generation in history which has the opportunity to make poverty history, but at the same time, it’s the last generation which has the chance to save the planet. It’s an important combination of two of the objectives of the 2030 Agenda. The ILO estimates that 57% of those who today live in extreme poverty are of working age, they are working people and they account for 12% of the total working age population. And if you take a slightly broader threshold there are one third of the working-age people in the world living in moderate poverty.

The conclusion we have to draw from that rather harsh reality is that ending poverty and promoting decent work are two sides of the same coin. We believe that by putting decent work SDG8 at the centre of the 2030 Agenda, the international community has recognized something which the ILO has been arguing for a long time: that Decent Work is both the major instrument to make development happen and also in effect, the central objective of sustainable development.

The 2030 Agenda convey that idea very well indeed. In the discussion on my report to our Conference, we heard these nearly 300 representatives embracing very enthusiastically their role in making the 2030 Agenda work. I know that the SDGs – and we heard this during the process of negotiation – have been criticized, and this Agenda has been criticized for being over-ambitious to the point of being unrealistic; it’s been criticized for being not sufficiently focused; many people have said: 17 goals not to mention 169 related targets and nearly 230 indicators is simply too much and that this is not an agenda that we are in position to deliver upon.

I take the contrary point of view. I take the view that the global community cannot afford to be less ambitious than this agenda. It is not realistic to be less ambitious because failure to address any one of these 17 goals leaves our world open to a future of environmental damage, of social conflict and of economic stagnation and consequent political problems, and I suggest that we all need to unite our efforts to avoid that type of future and to bring a better future.

Now I want to highlight one or two characteristics underlying this agenda. The first is that this agenda was the result of the most inclusive process of multilateral negotiation that one can imagine. The very act of involving all member States in such negotiations means, I believe, that this agenda has legitimacy and it has a real potential for national ownership. And indeed, trade unions and employers’ organizations were very centrally involved in the negotiation of this agenda. It’s very positive and it stands in contrast to the millennium development goals which while very valuable were not the result of an inclusive negotiated process.

The second feature is that this is a universal agenda, an agenda for every country on the planet, that includes Finland as well as it includes the least developed countries of the world. They all have action to take at home as well as collective action to take in the solidaristic effort to promote implementation in other countries.

The third characteristic to emphasize is the rights-based content of this agenda. One of the most important elements of this agenda is that human rights including rights at work, the rule of law, and basic notions of justice are explicitly included in this agenda. It wasn’t the easiest thing to negotiate but it gives a very strong moral compass to this agenda.

Turning to the challenges ahead, the ILO estimates that in 2015 967 million women and men did not earn enough to rise above that moderate poverty threshold of 3.10 US$/day and 327 million fell below the 1.90 US$ extreme poverty line. That’s our starting point. In addition, the world’s work force continues to grow at about 40 million every year. These are the newcomers to the global labour force. This pace of population growth is in fact gradually declining but the mathematics is that we are going to have to create 470 million decent jobs just to absorb new entrants to the labour market by 2030.

That will still leave the existing jobs gap of over 60 million which is a heritage that we face from the global financial crisis of 2008. That is what is before us as we tackle Goal no. 8 on full employment and decent work for all. Let’s put on top of that the imperative of narrowing the gap in female labour force participation. Reducing that gap by 2030 by just 25 per cent, which is a goal that the G20 grouping has set itself, means that we would have to create 200 million decent jobs for women. These are daunting figures and you may think this an unrealisable agenda.

But in fact we have to draw the opposite conclusion. This is an agenda which we can and must achieve. I want as well to draw attention to the element of combatting inequality which figures explicitly at the heart of this agenda. Inequality at its current levels is not only recognized as being a massive social problem, a threat to the social cohesion of our societies, but it’s also recognized as being a brake on economic growth and job creation, and those two notions – the basic social concern for social justice and the economic one should bring us together to work to reduce inequality in all sorts of ways; and that starts in the labour market.

I continue to say that all of us involved in the labour market should not believe that inequality and growing inequality is something which happens to the labour market. It’s something which is created by the labour market. We need to put those things right.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is really important that I underline the interconnected nature of all of these goals. If you just take a look at that graphic and think a few moments, you can see very clearly that realizing anyone of these goals is dependent of other goals.

I could pick out any number of those inter-related factors. I’ve already talked of gender, but the ILO needs also to focus upon the concentration of the worst pockets of poverty in the rural economy and in the informal economy. Often those are parts of the world of work which organizations like ours finds it very difficult to reach; but we must do that. Without that, we are not going to make an impact on ending hunger and achieving food security, improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture - but these are things we can do.

And very importantly I want to make the linkage with the environmental aspects of this agenda. We have spent a long time worrying and sometimes drawing the wrong conclusions about the interconnection between jobs and growth and environmental protection. The 2030 Agenda requires us to reconcile those two objectives and the good news is, I believe, that this is not an idle dream, this is not ignoring a conflict because more and more – and I think that the Paris conference in December brought this to the surface – we recognize that tackling climate change offers us a tremendous potential in respect of job creation.

Yes, it is a redirection of the world of work, it’s a re-engineering of the way work is carried out but this is perfectly possible to do. Ladies and gentlemen, I said at the outset that I felt that national ownership of this agenda is fundamental to its success. And that is so. And I was encouraged at our Conference by the fact that minister after minister, trade union representative after trade union representative, employer representative after employer representative came to the stage and said: “we are going to get involved. We are going to play a part in delivering this agenda”.

I hope that when they go home, they make the same speeches. I am aware that this agenda is necessarily an all-of-government operation and it should be, because these goals require all sectors of government from finance, from labour, from environment to be involved.

It is not always easy for the labour ministries or the social partners to find their full place in such joined-up government initiatives. I’m delighted that Finland – which as recent experience has shown, attributes to its social partners a key role in national policy making and implementation - has taken the approaches to the delivery of the 2030 Agenda that it has, and I congratulate you on it. I can only hope that what you are doing will meet with imitation in other countries in the coming years.

In my report to the International Labour Conference I tried to do three things: to inform our tripartite constituents of what’s in the 2030 Agenda, to encourage this national ownership process and to have a discussion on what the role of the ILO should be in that. We need to support you but we also need to play a role in the international system.

Another place where a non-competitive pact would be a good idea would be in the international system. There is a tendency, unhelpful but almost built into the system for international organizations to compete with each other in asking for funding and trying to deliver on different parts of this Agenda. I believe it to be fundamentally important - and the ILO will direct its efforts in that direction - to ensure that the multilateral system acts as a team, that its efforts in each of these areas is complementary and not competitive and that the interaction between member States and the multilateral system is as positive as possible.

It’s not a small task, believe me, but it’s one that we must take on. I’ve already talked about some of the features of this agenda which make it very special and very exciting. I want to just add a comment about measurability and accountability.

If we are going to have an agenda of this nature, and hope for it to be implemented, we need systems of accountability. We need to be asking member States to report back on what they are doing and we need to be able to measure their progress or their lack of progress, and that’s where the indicators come in. Putting the indicators together is not as easy as it sounds. Let’s just take one example: you might think that measuring jobs for all – full employment – would be the easiest indicator in the world. You just go to the countries, you see how many people don’t have a job and you report back.

But the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t work like that. In the developing world, open unemployment figures do not tell the story. Most people do not have the “luxury” of being unemployed. There is no social protection, so they find living in the informal economy. They live in conditions of gross under-employment. They work sometimes in conditions which do not qualify as humane. So we have to find other indicators - levels of informality, levels of working poverty, hours worked - to construct a set of indicators that tell the whole story and tell it properly.

Other indicators are different because we’re trying to measure things which are not so much quantitative as qualitative. Try to measure, for example, respect for trade union rights in a country; it’s not so easy, and we’re working on that one. But we are intent upon making sure that this agenda, and progress in its implementation is measurable and that countries will therefore be held accountable. We are making progress.

Lastly, the resources, the financing of this agenda. I’ve already scared you a little bit perhaps with the immensity of the challenges before us, so what about the funding? In fact, the means of implementation of the 2030 Agenda is different from the Millennium Development Goals because when it was negotiated, countries also sat down and negotiated the resources that would be needed to work.

There was a conference last year in Addis Ababa on financing for development and the conclusion there was that international development assistance matters, that even though financial times are difficult we need to keep that international solidarity going. But in addition – and this is fundamental to the ILO – domestic resource generation is going to be critical, and that means the private sector needs to grow, businesses need to contribute; trade and investment needs to be promoted as well. There is a major private sector resource mobilization in all of this and the employers’ community has to be fully involved in implementation.

Let me conclude, ladies and gentlemen, President Halonen, with a last comment on how important, how transformative this agenda can be. There is a lot in the world of work which might lead one to believe that we’re moving further away from the ideals of social justice, which are the ideals with which the ILO was created nearly a century ago. We are seeing greater inequality, higher unemployment, exclusion and marginalization.

If – if – this agenda can become a reality in the next 15 years, we will be turning the tide back in the direction of social justice and assuring a sustainable and fairer society for us and our children, and I hope that with your help, we will be able to do just that.

Thank you very much.