Address to International Labour Conference Plenary: Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary

Statement | Genève | 12 June 2012

Mr. President,

Director General

For working people without jobs or those who are watching their children denied jobs, for the majority who have no adequate social protection or those who have lost their homes and/or their retirement benefits - their faith in governments is fractured.

Moreover there is no way to explain to them why their own governments have now turned on them and are attacking their fundamental labour rights at the behest of global agencies and the bond markets.

After more than four years since the onset of the global financial crisis the sanity of the current policies must be questioned. The massive transfer of debt from the private sector and the banks to government treasuries, the inaction of governments to more speedily tackles the greed of the financial sector and now cowardice to protect their people in the face of the bond markets and the troika is alarming.

It must end.

We need to see;

  • Investment in jobs not debt
  • Wages growth in surplus countries with wage increases that reflect prices and productivity and catch up of past productivity
  • A freeze on austerity attacks and genuine social dialogue in southern countries
  • Stronger not weaker collective bargaining provisions
  • Social protection for people not welfare for banks with no equity or conditionality that guarantees shared profits or affordable credit for SME's
  • Serious financial regulation to stop the speculative gambling with our future
  • The significant reduction in the informal economy now withering formal business and decent work, and
  • Sustainability

It is possible. ITUC research in twelve country case studies shows that 2% of GDP invested in the green economy each year for 5 years can achieve around 48 million new jobs. Imagine how many jobs we could have in 50 countries or a hundred countries.

And we have the capital. With 25 trillion dollars of pension funds invested in the global economy workers have a stake in sustainability in the broadest sense. Last week we launched the call for our capital to be invested as 'patient' capital, invested in the real economy with an end to speculative activity with workers money and we set a benchmark for 5% of these funds to be invested in green infrastructure and jobs by 2015.

All it takes is political will from governments willing to look for alternate economic models.

European unions have called for a new Social Compact. I urge governments to sit at the dialogue table and listen to their people.

I congratulate the DG Juan Somavia for his call in his opening address for his call for serious rethinking for not only is the global economy stagnating but inequity is growing everywhere and, while long overdue, inequity is now acknowledged as being directly correlated with instability.

The income gap has risen even in traditionally more equal countries.

Unemployment, exclusion of our young people, poverty, desperation and social instability are not the foundations for a socially just future.

Joseph Stieglitz suggested that the austerity measures in Europe are akin to medieval blood letting'

Any why?

Why, when output has nearly doubled over the last two decades but income re- distribution has fallen to almost 1/3 of that some 3 decades ago.

More equal distribution of wealth is the only solution. The fundamental rights of FOA and collective bargaining that this house stands for are critical part of the solution.

As we head to Rio and the G20 the demands are clear.

Jobs, jobs and jobs - sustainability with social protection at the core of just economies, a financial transactions tax to ensure the richest and most protected sector makes just a small contribution.

It is not too dramatic to say that in the lead up to the G20 next week we have just a few months to see a comprehensive solution or we could face a re- run of the 1930's. Its too frightening to contemplate so we call for leaders to act.

To date the cooperation with employers at both Rio and the G20 where there is an acceptance of both a shared future and shared responsibility stands in great contrast to the scenes from our employer colleagues here in the last two weeks in the 'Committee on the Application Of Standards ‘To deny the most vulnerable workers the right to be heard, to deny them the possibility of protection of the CAS from further incarceration, torture and oppression - shame on you!

The rule of law including international law is something we should all respect. To abscond from this serious responsibility by deploying strike action is a black irony for workers like those teachers in Bahrain who have been incarcerated and tortured for taking a mere two hours stop work protest, or the workers in Turkey being persecuted today and many many more .

Tomorrow I will release the first global Poll of the views of working people. It is alarming and demonstrates that tragically the democracy contract is broken. There is little optimism and 89% of people do not believe that the future will be better for their children and just 13 % of people believe that voters have real influence on the economic decisions of their governments.

For workers the choices for us are clear but will Governments act is the question?

Juan Somavia, I thank you for extraordinary leadership and amongst many other issues 'decent work' is a global legacy for which we all strive and of which you can be particularly proud.

I wish you well and I hope and suspect we will not lose your voice on the global stage

We are also proud to see guy Ryder, a worker, as the next DG. He will make a great director general.

Thank you.