Past experiences demonstrate that governments alone can neither tackle the causes and consequences of the crisis nor ensure social stability and recovery.
On the other hand, when unions and employers’ organizations join the discussion these challenges become much more surmountable.
As ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said at last month’s International Labour Conference: “It is precisely with social dialogue that we can get out of the crisis, through productive investments in sustainable enterprises that can increase jobs, consumer demand and fiscal revenues.”
Here are some successful experiences of national social dialogue that show the value of strong industrial relations systems in turbulent times.
|Early crisis response|
|In the Netherlands, the long established practice of regular national social dialogue allowed the tripartite partners - government, unions and employers’ organizations - to respond to the current crisis in its early stages.|
As the crisis unfolded in 2009, the government convened a special tripartite crisis team. The team worked on urgent matters such as preventing mass redundancies and maintaining the purchasing power of the working population, as well as offering training opportunities to those workers who had lost their jobs.
It also led to a tripartite agreement on employment promotion through training, flexicurity (balancing flexibility and security in relation to employment, income and social protection) and limiting enterprise costs.
This agreement was possible only after trade unions pledged to keep wage demands below the rate of inflation and employers agreed not to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67 years of age.
|Commitment to decent work|
|In Chile, the social partners concluded a national tripartite agreement on decent work in May 2009. Enacted into law three weeks later, it contains a number of measures on employment, training and social protection.|
Valid for a period of 12 months, it aimed at facilitating the retention of workers within enterprises, improving workers’ skills, protecting unemployed persons and helping them to find new jobs in the labour market, boosting public spending on infrastructure, and supporting enterprises through tax relief and access to credits and guarantees.
The Law also includes a grants programme for women. The speed with which all of these measures have been adopted and started to be implemented has been attributed to the rapid consensus between the Chilean government, workers and employers.
|A framework for action|
|The tripartite partners in South Africa met to discuss the challenges brought about by the global economic crisis in December 2008. |
The consultation process resulted in the unveiling of a “Framework for South Africa’s response to the international economic crisis” in February 2009. The Framework agreement identified six key areas for crisis-response action: investment in public infrastructure, macroeconomic policy, industrial and trade policy, employment and social measures, global coordination and social partnership.
One of the Framework’s underlying principles is a commitment to creating decent jobs, since the signatory parties agreed to “ensure full respect for and observance of fair labour standards and national legislation, in responding to the crisis”.
Similar agreements have been concluded in Armenia, the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Korea.
|In Germany, the government convened a tripartite summit in December 2008, with a view to discussing the impact of the crisis on the national economy and outlining the Federal Government’s second stimulus package.|
The summit offered the social partners an opportunity to examine the government’s proposals and to make counter-proposals. The results of this exchange of views were taken into consideration in the package of measures implemented in January 2009.
A similar approach has been taken by Brazil, Czech Republic, India, Nigeria and Turkey.The examples illustrate how an agreement between the social partners can kick-start labour market and employment recovery.