GENEVA - Faced with a growing "decent work" deficit that has seen an increase of more than 20 per cent in official unemployment in the past decade and the need to create at least 40 million new jobs over each of the next 10 years to prevent it rising still further, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) moved in July to strengthen global efforts to fight poverty and promote sustainable development.
In a wide-ranging agreement on the urgency of tackling what speakers at the ECOSOC meeting called a global jobs crisis, ministers reaffirmed that "opportunities for men and women to obtain productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity are essential to ensuring the eradication of hunger and poverty, the improvement of the economic and social well-being for all, the achievement of sustained economic growth and sustainable development of all nations, and a fully inclusive and equitable globalization."
The Ministerial Declaration maps out a series of initiatives with governments and other institutions to consider the employment impact of policies and to ensure greater policy coherence, inviting "all relevant actors, including the Bretton Woods Institutions and other multilateral banks, to join our efforts" to implement the Declaration.
"This move presents an extraordinary opportunity to mainstream the goal of full and productive employment and decent work for all into the regular activities of all relevant UN organizations," said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. "This can set in motion a process of policy dialogue within the multilateral system - including the Bretton Woods Institutions - to stimulate the necessary policy convergence behind this global goal agreed to at the 2005 UN Summit."
"Full and productive employment and decent work for all"
The Declaration recognizes "the decent work agenda of the ILO as an important instrument to achieve the objective of full and productive employment and decent work for all". It also strongly supports fair globalization and resolves to makes the goals of full and productive employment and decent work for all a central objective of national and international policies and national development and poverty reduction strategies.
"We call upon the International Labour Organization to focus on the implementation of commitments regarding the promotion of full and productive employment and decent work for all agreed at the major United Nations conferences and summits . . . in order to achieve significant progress in both policy and operational programmes," the Declaration says, "and in this regard, we request the International Labour Organization to consider developing time-bound action plans to 2015, in collaboration with all relevant parties, for the achievement of this goal."
The Declaration marks a further important step in the effort by the ILO to promote a decent work agenda for reducing poverty and obtaining equitable, inclusive and sustainable development. The meeting was the first major international gathering to take up the recommendations of the 2005 World Summit to seek a fair globalization and make the goals of full and productive employment and decent work for all a central objective of national and international macroeconomic policies.
Mr. Somavia said the agreement would help launch "practical operational contributions to create an economic, social and political environment that generates enough decent work to make poverty history. In the course of the next 10 years, we will have to systematically implement the notion that 'working out of poverty' is key to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals. They go hand in hand."
The new Ministerial Declaration is also significant in that ECOSOC coordinates the work of all 14 UN specialized agencies, 10 functional Commissions and five regional Commissions. It was identified by the 2005 World Summit Outcome as having a potentially key role in the revitalization of the UN system. Mr. Somavia said the decision of the 54-member panel would serve to "reconnect the UN to the widespread democratic demand of people and families everywhere - a fair chance at a decent job."
Director-General's address to the High-level Segment of ECOSOC: www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/dgo/speeches/somavia/2006/ecosoc.pdf.
Decent work: a global concept
Decent work reflects a number of priorities on the social, economic and political agenda of countries and the international system:
- Fair globalization. Rather than driving people into the informal economy or creating massive migration, global expansion must find ways to deliver opportunities for decent work where people live.
- Poverty reduction. Employment creation and poverty reduction are inextricably linked. Work is the way out of poverty, and, as the ILO's Constitution states, "Poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere."
- Security. A community at work is a community at peace. This holds true at local, national, regional and global levels.
- Social inclusion. Achieving equality of opportunity and overcoming discrimination of all types in employment are crucial to fully realizing people's capabilities.
- Dignity. Labour is not a commodity. Labour costs reflect human beings for whom work is a source of dignity and family well-being.
- Diversity. Policies must be tailored to the specific needs of a country - one size does not fit all.
The ILO works with other partners within and beyond the UN family to provide in-depth expertise and key policy instruments for the design and implementation of these programmes. It also provides support for building the institutions needed to carry them forward and for measuring progress. The balance within these programmes differs from country to country, reflecting their needs, resources and priorities.
Progress also requires action at the global level. The Decent Work Agenda offers a basis for a more just and stable framework for global development. The ILO works to develop decent work-oriented approaches to economic and social policy in partnership with the principal institutions and actors of the multilateral system and the global economy.
The Decent Work Agenda
Putting the Decent Work Agenda into practice is achieved through the implementation of its four strategic objectives, with gender equality as a cross-cutting objective:
Creating jobs - an economy that generates opportunities for investment, entrepreneurship, job creation and sustainable livelihoods;
Guaranteeing rights at work - obtain recognition and respect for the rights of workers. All workers, and in particular disadvantaged or poor workers, need representation, participation, and good laws that are enforced and work for, not against, their interests;
Extending social protection - promote both inclusion and productivity by ensuring that men and women enjoy working conditions which are safe, allow adequate free time and rest, take into account family and social values, provide for adequate compensation in case of lost or reduced income and permit access to adequate healthcare; and
Promoting dialogue and conflict resolution - people in poverty understand the need to negotiate and know dialogue is the way to solve problems peacefully. Social dialogue, involving strong and independent workers' and employers' organizations, is central to increasing productivity and avoiding disputes at work, and to building cohesive societies.
Decent work deficits
The world today is facing a number of decent work "deficits" in the form of unemployment and underemployment, poor quality and unproductive jobs, unsafe work and insecure income, rights that are denied, and gender inequality. Many migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, lack representation and voice, and have inadequate protection from income loss during sickness, disability and old age.
What are some of the indicators of decent work deficits?
- Half of the world's workers are unable to lift themselves and their families above the US$2 per day per person poverty line.
- Much of the world has a significant "gender gap" in both quantity and quality of employment. Women are more likely than men to work in the informal economy, with little or no social protection and a high degree of insecurity.
- There are over 88 million unemployed youth (aged 15 to 24) around the world, comprising nearly half of the world's total unemployment, although this age group makes up only 25 per cent of the working-age population.
- Labour migration is on the rise. There are more than 86 million migrant workers in the world, 34 million of them in developing regions.
- Global economic growth is increasingly failing to translate into new and better jobs that would lead to a reduction in poverty.
Key elements of the ECOSOC Ministerial Declaration
- We strongly encourage multilateral and bilateral donor and inter-agency cooperation and coordination, in the pursuit of the goals of full and productive employment and decent work for all. To this end, we invite all the relevant international organizations, at the request of national Governments and relevant stakeholders, to contribute, through their programmes, policies and activities, to the goals of full and productive employment and decent work for all in accordance with national development strategies.
- We request the United Nations funds, programmes and agencies and invite financial institutions to support efforts to mainstream the goals of full and productive employment and decent work for all in their policies, programmes and activities. In this regard, we invite stakeholders to duly take account of the International Labour Organization decent work country programmes in order to achieve a more coherent and pragmatic United Nations approach to development at the national level on a voluntary basis.
- We also request the functional and regional commissions to consider how their activities contribute, or could contribute, to the goals of full employment and decent work for all.
- We also encourage all relevant agencies to collaborate actively in the development of the toolkit to promote decent work that is currently being developed by the International Labour Organization at the request of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination.
- We call upon the International Labour Organization to focus on the implementation of commitments regarding the promotion of full and productive employment and decent work for all at the major United Nations conferences and summits, including those contained in the outcomes of the 2005 World Summit and the World Summit for Social Development, in order to achieve significant progress in both policy and operational programmes, and in this regard we request the International Labour Organization to consider developing time-bound action plans to 2015, in collaboration with all relevant parties, for the achievement of this goal.
- We commit ourselves to the implementation of the present declaration and invite all relevant actors, including the Bretton Woods Institutions and other multilateral banks, to join our efforts in this regard.
Ministerial Declaration of the High-level Segment of ECOSOC (text as adopted), paras. 33-38. /public/english/bureau/inf/event/ecosoc/declaration.pdf