It is a great honour to report for the Workers’ group on our Committee’s work over the last two weeks. It is a great honour, but it is also a great pleasure: we can report on a strong consensus on the future of social protection achieved in a true spirit of tripartism.
Officially the title of our Committee was the “Committee for the Recurrent Discussion on Social Protection”. No one except some ILO insiders probably knows what is meant by “recurrent discussion”.
In plain language that is understood by my members back at home, our task was: to discuss the challenges to achieve social protection for all; to look for possible solutions; to discuss how social protection policies help to generate employment and vice versa; and to consider what member States and the Office can do to move forward on this issue.
Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, social security has been a recognized human right. But more than 60 years later, 5 billion people in the world still do not have adequate social security; 5 million children under the age of 5 years die every year because of poverty; and 150,000 mothers die in Africa alone annually because of the lack of maternity protection and essential health care.
The world is too rich to be at peace with these types of figures. Not only the Workers’ group, but I believe the Committee as a whole, felt strongly that the time has come to transform the universal aspiration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration of Philadelphia into universal reality.
The encouraging positive examples of extension of social security that we heard from many developing nations during our discussions were powerful evidence that a lot can be achieved in a short period of time. It is possible to make a fundamental difference to the lives of millions of people, including those with limited resources.
Imagine what it means for parents to be sure that their children will not suffer from hunger and can go to school. Imagine what it means to have at least a guaranteed basic pension when you reach retirement age. Imagine what it means to get medical care when you are sick. Imagine what it means to know that becoming unemployed will not result in hunger and desperation.
In our deliberations, we as a Committee restated the vital role social protection can and must play to lift people out of poverty and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. We are convinced that a Social Protection Floor for all is no longer a distant dream, but can be achieved. Social protection is a powerful instrument to protect the weakest in our societies, to reduce inequality, to ensure sustainable development, to build inclusive societies and ultimately to secure freedom, dignity and opportunity for all.
No society can develop and prosper without solidarity and fairness. Instead of “The winner takes it all”, our guiding principle must be “It takes us all to win.”
Solidarity is indispensable within countries, but this is also increasingly true for the global community of nations. No one has the right to close their eyes against poverty simply because it happens be-yond their own national borders. Where a country is too poor to provide at least a Social Protection Floor, initial support of the international community is indispensable in helping build a nationally sustainable Social Protection Floor.
The ILO is the organization to lead the global debate on extending social security. No other organization in the world has the mandate and ability to develop international labour standards to guide governments, or has the ability to establish a rights-based approach to social security and to build mutual trust among nations so that the efforts to in-crease the well-being of their people will not be undercut by social dumping.
We unanimously agreed to call for a single discussion on a social floor Recommendation in 2012. We expect this Recommendation to provide a firm basis for the principles of social security, the guarantees of the social floor, its implementation and monitoring of progress and the time frames for achieving progressively full coverage.
We also expect guidance on the financing, the design and the methods to achieve these objectives. The latter will vary between countries and depend on national circumstances. There is no need to be over-prescriptive on the “how”. The billions of poor do not care how it is done, as long as at the end of the day the right to social security, basic income security and access to essential health care is achieved.
Our Committee firmly sees the Social Protection Floor as a stepping stone towards comprehensive social security provisions as outlined in the up-to-date ILO social security Conventions. We agreed on the new concept of the equal importance of horizontal and vertical extension of social security. The horizontal extension is aimed at giving at least minimal protection to all as soon as possible and providing basic income security and access to essential health care. The vertical extension will protect people against falling into poverty and will pro-vide guaranteed income replacement levels in the case of unemployment, sickness or old age and the other contingencies defined in Convention No. 102.
Comprehensive social security is indispensable in order to build and maintain inclusive societies, where working people and their families are not pushed into poverty when they lose a job, get sick or retire. Social protection means solidarity and security that enables workers to become independent and confident citizens. It is indispensable in a well-functioning democratic society.
Convention No. 102 has been recognized in our Committee as the ILO Convention that sets the minimum standard for comprehensive social security systems. It is very encouraging that a number of member States have ratified this Convention in re-cent years and we call on all governments to consider ratification and implementation of this land-mark ILO Convention. We call on governments not to look for reasons why it is not possible to ratify, but to work on solutions to overcome obstacles to ratification.
The General Survey on social security presented at this Conference highlighted the need for gender-neutral language in this Convention but it also out-lined a number of pragmatic proposals on how to address this. We are eager to address these concerns and I feel confident that in a spirit of tripartism we can find a solution quickly.
No doubt in extending social security coverage there are challenges ahead. This includes the transition from informal to formal employment, the growing trend of precariousness, including in many industrialized countries, the need to broaden the tax base and ensure progressive taxation to fund social security for all, the high level of unemployment – in particular youth unemployment – in many societies and demographic changes. These all require decisive policy responses. But the work of the Office and also our discussions showed that these challenges are not insurmountable; indeed, they are manageable, but there have to be priorities in policy-making.
I had the opportunity to listen Mr Barde’s comments on behalf of the Employers and it is clear to say that we reject, as a Workers’ group, the austerity and privatization measures that are currently forming part of countries’ responses to the global crisis. These paths have been shown to fail. They have failed in the past and they contribute to inequality and are socially unacceptable. They are not the only choice as a response, and the conclusions of our report support alternative approaches. Social protection as a rights-based approach is strongly set out in our report, where equality is as important an indicator as any other. Social protection is seen in our report as supporting strong economies.
What becomes a priority in politics depends largely on the balance of forces in society. That is why it is of the utmost importance to ensure that ordinary working people can organize and collectively represent their interests. The full respect and promotion of the enabling rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining are indispensable if we want to make progress in this regard. It was true in the past, it is true today and it will be true in future, that social progress is best achieved where there are strong workers’ organizations that are respected partners of governments and employers.
Mahatma Gandhi expressed the challenge we are facing in so many societies in a single sentence: “There is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”
The discussions in our Committee showed that without sharing the fruits of economic success and productivity growth, we will not be able to make progress. Indeed, sharing the wealth is in itself a precondition for sustained productivity growth. It is the interaction between social, employment, fiscal and monetary policies that build sustainable growth paths. Social security needs to be part of wider policy packages. That is the way forward that is called for by the Decent Work Agenda and the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization.
The Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization calls on member States, workers’ and employers’ organizations and the Office to work together to promote the values of this Organization. Our work was a living example of this. Let me thank the Governments and our Employer colleagues, including the Employer Vice-Chairperson, Mr Barde, for their efforts. Let me also thank our Chairperson: you really made the work of the Committee progress well, and in a very friendly environment. Let me also thank the Office, especially Mr Diop, Mr Cichon and their superb team. All of them demonstrated an exceptional level of commitment and professionalism in serving our Committee and the bigger cause of social justice. Let me thank my Worker colleagues, including those who participated in the very hard task of the drafting committee. There is a very strong commitment in our Committee to this issue and a sterling contribution was made by all the members of the group and I want to thank them sincerely.
At this 100th Session of the International Labour Conference, we send a strong message that the horizontal and vertical extension of social security is a key pillar of sustainable development. It is necessary. It is possible and it can be done. Our new Geneva consensus is an open invitation to all groups and societies and, in particular, to the multilateral system, to join forces in building comprehensive social security systems and to put an end to poverty.