LISBON (ILO News) – The 8th European Regional Meeting of the International Labour Organization (ILO) begins its work here Tuesday faced with the challenge of forging a “decent work” response to the financial and economic crisis and mounting job losses and social hardship.
“We are seeing a dramatic deterioration in output and employment levels across the region”, said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “The social and political repercussions of a deep and prolonged recession are daunting. Our priority attention must turn to halting the slide into a full-blown social recession.”
The marks of the financial and economic crisis on working women and men are visible across the 51-state region, according to an updated assessment of the impact of, and policy responses to, the crisis prepared on the eve of the meeting.
The new assessment says that the crisis has brought a reversal in the promising declining trend in unemployment observed in South-Eastern European (non-EU) countries and member States of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) after 2000.
A recent ILO study on Global Employment Trends also shows that if growth slows more rapidly in 2009 and recovery efforts are delayed until 2010 the region of South Eastern (non-EU) Europe and CIS countries could see the unemployment rate rise from 8.8 per cent in 2008 to 9.8 per cent in 2009, while in the European Union and other developed economies the unemployment rate could face an increase of 1.5 percentage points, from 6.4 per cent in 2008 to 7.9 per cent in 2009.
Government, workers and employers representatives attending the meeting are expected to assess different stimulus packages under implementation and discuss appropriate economic, employment and social policies aimed at incorporating the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda as a key component of policy responses.
“Today, swift and bold measures are required to protect workers and families most exposed and support demand through investment and enterprises. Governments, workers and employers will use this meeting to compare policy responses and build consensus on the best ways forward”, said Mr. Somavia.
While many of the discussions are expected to centre on short-term solutions to the crisis, medium term perspectives of improving decent work in Europe and Central Asia will be equally useful. In this respect, the delegates will also consider the global imbalances, including widening income inequalities and shifts in wage/profit shares that lie at the core of the current economic situation.
To that effect, delegates to the meeting will examine a number of labour and social policies, including labour market policies and flexicurity, social dialogue, policies to reconcile work and family, social protection, fundamental rights at work and wage policies. The five-day gathering will also serve as a platform to review the work of the ILO since the last regional meeting four years ago in Budapest.
Countries in Europe and Central Asia face different degrees of exposure to the crisis and their capacity to respond also differs. For example, fiscal and current account balances vary significantly among countries, as do pre-crisis employment levels and social protection schemes.
As in other parts of the world, the crisis first hit the financial services and construction sectors of Europe and Central Asia before moving on to the manufacturing and service sectors, thus forcing sharp cutbacks in orders through the supply chain and fostering unemployment.
The ILO has identified a number of measures required to protect people, support productive enterprises, safeguard jobs and address the impact of the crisis on the real economy, including:
- Extra vigilance to ensure full respect for fundamental principles and rights at work, namely freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour, the effective abolition of child labour, and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
- Reflection and consultations through social dialogue on policy options and priorities for recovery.
- Consideration should be given to extending unemployment benefits, facilitating additional training and retraining opportunities, strengthening placement services, and enlarging or putting in place emergency employment schemes and targeted safety nets.
- Developing and enhancing measures of social protection – social security and labour protection – which are sustainable and adapted to national circumstances, including the extension of social security to all.
- Putting in place sound employment relations systems which contribute to balanced economic growth, not least to help avoid policies that will exacerbate global imbalances or increase income inequalities.
“Our attention must turn to the protection of the most vulnerable members of the labour force, to sustainable enterprises – particularly smaller firms – and their access to adequate financing and to the full use of institutions for social dialogue to develop policy responses. Placing Decent Work at the centre of our economic social policy responses to the crisis will pave the way toward more balanced, less volatile, sustainable economic growth benefiting all”, said Mr. Somavia.
Note to correspondents
For general information on the meeting or to request information or other contacts, please contact the ILO Department of Communication at +4122/799-7912, firstname.lastname@example.org, or the ILO Lisbon office at +351/91-830-01-84, email@example.com
For information on coverage, video, documents and other media materials, please see Media advisory - Impact of Global financial crisis on world of work expected to be high on agenda of quadrennial meeting