102nd International Labour Conference

Action needed to provide jobs and social protection for growing and ageing populations

Governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations must take action to ensure decent job opportunities and social protection for growing and ageing populations, concludes the International Labour Conference Committee on Employment and Social Protection in the New Demographic Context.

Press release | 19 June 2013

GENEVA – Fast changing demographics present a huge challenge to labour markets and social security systems world-wide, which must be urgently addressed, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has said.

Discussions at the annual International Labour Conference (ILC) concluded that with the right combination of policies and the commitment and action of relevant stakeholders, demographic transitions not only become manageable and sustainable but can also be turned into opportunities.

The conclusions adopted by the ILC Committee on Employment and Social Protection in the New Demographic Context, emphasize the need for a long-term policy vision to address the employment and social protection needs of people of all ages and to promote shared responsibility and solidarity between generations.

By 2050 there will be only four people of working age for every person over 65, compared to nine in the year 2000."
“These conclusions show that a life-cycle approach to the world of work is needed. Employment and social protection policies should be developed in such a way as to reinforce one another in response to the specific and diverse employment, income patterns and needs of different aged populations,” said Azita Berar Awad, Deputy Representative of the ILC Secretary General at the Committee and Director of the ILO Employment Policy Department.

This means skills development and job opportunities for youth; fair wages and rights for those in work and social protection for those unemployed; job opportunities and training for older workers and pensions for the retired,” she added.

A report prepared for the ILC presented the scale of the challenge, in a context in which the world’s population will surpass 9 billion by 2050 and the number of people aged 60 years and over will have tripled. Three-quarters of older persons will be living in what are now developing countries and the majority will be women.

In addition, by 2050 there will be only four people of working age for every person over 65, compared to nine in the year 2000. This new demographic context, the report warns, has profound implications for labour markets, social security systems, employment and economic development.


Need for a comprehensive policy mix

The conclusions underscore the need for a comprehensive, multi-dimensional, integrated and innovative policy mix that recognizes the interdependency between demographic shifts, employment, labour migration, social protection and economic development.

They emphasized that while principles and rights at work are universal, policies are context- specific and each country needs to develop the right policy mix appropriate to its situation.

“In Africa, the priority right now is to provide employment for the large youth population, extend social security to the informal sector and encourage formalization of informal work. In Europe, it is about the ageing population and ensuring productive jobs for older workers and sufficient pensions for those who retire,” said James Matiza from Zimbabwe, chair of the Committee and government spokesperson.

“However, Africa and other developing regions need to prepare for the future, as their populations begin to age,” he added.

The ILC Committee recommended employment-centred policies and development strategies to generate decent and productive jobs for all working-age groups. It noted that skills mismatches and shortages are a common challenge and that measures to improve and update skills throughout the life-cycle are an essential part of the policy mix.

If we don’t get people into jobs now, we will be in a far worse position in 2050."
Tanya Cohen (South Africa), vice-chair for the employers’ group, said: “If we don’t get people into jobs now, we will be in a far worse position in 2050. Increasing labour force participation is necessary in order to finance social protection measures for those that can’t find, or are unable to work.”

“Enterprises create jobs. In order to keep doing so, enterprises need an enabling environment and the flexibility to be sustainable and adapt to the changing nature of the world of work,” she added.

Social protection measures

The Committee identified the need to establish formal social protection measures where they are not in place and ensure their sustainability in countries with established social security systems.

Cinzia Del Rio (Italy), vice-chair for the workers’ group, said: “What is needed now is decisive political will and action to ensure the rapid extension of social protection systems.”

“Formal employment with fair conditions and wages is needed so that people can regularly contribute and sustain this social protection for future generations,” she added.

On pensions, the Committee recognized that countries often face difficult choices and recommended that “policies should strive to ensure the adequacy and the predictability of pensions and a gradual and flexible transition from active working life to retirement through measures such as phased-in retirement, part-time work and job-sharing.”

For those older workers who choose to delay retirement, it recommends policies to combat discrimination based on age, including appropriate legislation, public awareness campaigns and enterprise level initiatives.

The Committee concluded that “the ILO has an important role to play in providing global leadership and acting as a centre of excellence on demographic change and its implications for the world of work.”

Amongst a number of specific requests, the conclusions asked the ILO to undertake research on the care sector over the coming months, which it noted would be under increased demand due to population ageing.

The tripartite committee on the new Demographic Context brought together delegates from governments, employers and unions. The Committee’s conclusions were adopted by the plenary session of the International Labour Conference on Wednesday, 19 June, 2013.

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