G20 Saudi Arabia 2020

ILO Director-General’s remarks at G20 Labour and Employment Ministers’ Meeting (LEMM): Update on Global Labour Markets

Statement | 10 September 2020
Honourable Chair, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for the opportunity to present the reports prepared by the ILO and OECD, which I will do together with Secretary-General Angel Gurría.

The first thing to say is that labour markets around the world are still reeling from the COVID-19 crisis. The ILO estimates that hours worked in the G20 declined by 14 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, compared with the fourth quarter of 2019. That is equivalent to the loss of 265 million full-time jobs in G20 countries alone, and 400 million jobs worldwide.

I’m afraid the forthcoming estimates from the ILO are likely to see these figures rise.

The impact has been particularly hard on workers in the informal economy – over 2 billion people, more than 60 per cent of the world’s workforce. We estimate that four out of five of them – 1.6 billion workers – have been seriously impacted, and suffered dramatic income declines due to COVID-19.

Chair, you have asked me to speak particularly to the situation of women and youth; and for women, COVID-19 brought a double blow. On top of the loss of paid work, the amount of time they need to spend in unpaid care work has increased, because of the closure of schools and day care centres, cuts in services for the elderly and people with disabilities, and the need to look after dependents suffering from COVID-19.

Women’s employment is also at greater risk than men’s, as they are over-represented in the service sector, which has been particularly badly hit by the economic disruption. In addition women dominate in front-line occupations, such as health and social work, which leaves them more exposed to contracting COVID-19.

Taken together, this means the hard-won but modest gains made towards gender equality in recent years are likely to be reversed. The goal adopted by G20 leaders in Brisbane in 2014, to reduce the gender gap in labour force participation by 25 per cent by 2025, is therefore now further away.

Turning to youth, and the G20 Antalya target to reduce the share of youth who are most at risk of being permanently left behind in the labour market by 15% by 2025, again I’m sorry to say that they too are disproportionately affected by the crisis. Our report shows that the struggle to find a first job just got a lot tougher; and that those who have jobs are much more likely than adult workers to lose them.

Young people in education and training, waiting to make the jump from education to work, also face greater barriers. According to an ILO global survey, more than 70 per cent of young people who are studying or combining study with work have been affected by the closure of schools, universities and training facilities. The potential legacy of this is deeply worrying. There is a serious risk that the prospects for this generation could be damaged for years to come, making the current COVID-19 crisis potentially a multi-generational crisis.

And ultimately, young people will also have to pay off the debts created by the trillions of dollars of measures much needed to get us through the crisis.

This is arguably therefore the most complex and difficult crisis ever to hit the global economy. Policymakers have responded with bold measures, including fiscal stimulus packages and decisive monetary interventions. And these must, of course continue those as long as it is necessary.

An essential part of the policy toolkit has been inclusive social protection. This not only protects household incomes but keeps households consuming, and that in turn protects jobs. As of 12 August, a total of 208 countries and territories had announced no less than 1,364 social protection measures of different types, including health, income and employment protection.

Many countries have increased the level of benefits and the scope of their schemes to cover more people, including for workers in the informal economy. Nevertheless, Chair, the holes in the safety net persist.

So it is simply not enough just to think about rebuilding the economy to where it was before Covid-19. We need to use this moment to build back a better, fairer, system. And that means a more sustainable, resilient and inclusive labour market.

Let me outline some of the things that we need to consider as we chart our way forward:

1.  First, as the crisis continues and resources become tighter, we face the challenge of maintaining support for businesses and for workers. There is no single, neat, approach to this. But it will be essential to ensure that public health is fully protected at the same time as promoting an inclusive employment recovery. Developing countries, often with less fiscal space, often have fewer options, and in these cases support from the G20 can play an important role not just by providing practical help but also by showing the value of international solidarity.

2.  We must also improve the coherence of our policies, by working together to ensure that our interventions have the greatest effect. Our efforts must be directed towards the shift to greener societies, and a just transition for those whose jobs are affected.

3.  The necessary transitions in the world of work need to be built into the recovery process, and that will require investment. In addition to environmental measures, this will need to cover infrastructure and technology, and the health and care systems. The right investments in economic, social and environmental recovery can create the basis for a human-centred approach that also delivers greater social justice, exactly as outlined in the ILO’s Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work.

4.  And – coming back to the G20’s Brisbane goals – much more has to be done to address the unequal impact of the crisis on women. This needs to include:
  • closing gender gaps in access to jobs, career progression and job quality, including working conditions in sectors with high levels of female employment such as health care;
  • more support for women entrepreneurs;
  • and more investment in the care economy, improving access to care-related leave and affordable care services.
5.  We must pay particular attention to the situation of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in the labour market in our recovery policies. If we don’t, the recovery could make existing injustices worse. I have already spoken of how social protection is a powerful tool for building back long-term resilience against shocks and crises. The temporary measures to extend social protection to previously uncovered groups in the last few months should be transformed into long-term, sustainable social protection mechanisms for all – this with a fair division of costs between employers, workers and governments.

And last but no means least, we need to work towards a sustainable recovery which fully respects international labour standards, particularly those regarding safety and health at work, employment, and freedom of association.

Time and again, social dialogue has shown its value in shaping policies that are effective, balanced, broadly accepted and practical. So the involvement of the employers’ and workers’ organizations from whom we will soon hear, Chair, is crucial if we are to ensure that the recovery is sustainable, fair and inclusive.

All of these elements provide guidance for policies that could deliver on the commitment to ‘build back better’. And it is essential that we do, in light of the deep-rooted inequalities the COVID-19 crisis has exposed. Without profound structural changes these will merely intensify, with consequences that quite frankly would be very difficult to predict.

So rather than simply responding to events, we need to take control, to guide the process of recovery, to make sure our post-pandemic world is a better one. The G20 has a unique opportunity and perhaps also a responsibility to adopt policies that can achieve that.

To do so, we need solidarity, commitment, resilience and vision on the truly global scale that the G20 can bring.

Thank you.