ILO symposium ends with call to institutionalize tripartite cooperation to advance development and regional integration

Symposium delegates agreed that Heads of Government should "take the lead in promoting tripartism and social dialogue in the design and implementation of economic and social policies aimed at achieving full and productive employment and decent work."

News | 26 May 2011
PORT OF SPAIN (ILO News) - A call has been made to institutionalize tripartite cooperation and social dialogue among government and employers' and workers' organizations at the national and regional levels, to advance national development and regional integration. The call was sounded by high-level representatives of governments, employers' and workers' representatives of the English- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean in the Conclusions of the Tripartite Caribbean Symposium on Tripartism and Social Dialogue: Comparative Experiences in dealing with economic and social development issues on 17-18 May 2011 in Barbados. The Symposium was hosted by the Government of Barbados and the social partners, and the International Labour Office.

Symposium delegates agreed that Heads of Government should "take the lead in promoting tripartism and social dialogue in the design and implementation of economic and social policies aimed at achieving full and productive employment and decent work." They also concurred that effective and sustained mechanisms for social dialogue required adequate funding and strong administrative support as well as robust, independent employers' and workers' organizations, equipped to promote and defend their members’ interests. Social dialogue is the means by which governments and employers and workers’ organizations can build consensus on policy issues of common interest, through negotiation, consultation and exchange of information.

Delegates learnt first hand of the experiences of Barbados, Singapore and Mauritius which have successfully used social dialogue to advance national development.

In Barbados, the Social Partnership began as a direct result of the economic crisis of the early 1990s. In 1993, the Government and employers' and workers' representatives signed a Protocol for the implementation of a Prices and Incomes Policy. Since 1995, there have been five additional Protocols, each building on the other. The sixth Protocol was signed on 1 May 2011.

"Through social dialogue, industrial unrest in the country was reduced. Bridges of trust were eventually built which created a cordial environment for consultation and engagement by the parties, " said Dr. the Honourable Esther Byer Suckoo, Minister of Labour, Barbados, in her feature address at the Opening Ceremony of the Symposium.

"Just as it did in the 1990s, the Social Partnership has assisted in mitigating the effects of the present global economic crisis. When the Social Partners established a special working group on the economy in October 2008 to collaboratively craft a short- and medium-term action plan to address the global economic crisis, we signaled to the country that we were poised to strategically respond to matters that affect us greatly, " Minister Byer Suckoo remarked.

The Action Plan included a modest stimulus package which laid the foundation for a more comprehensive medium-term development strategy for Barbados for 2010-2014, to help lead economic recovery.

"We are still in the learning curve. Every challenge teaches us something, " emphasized Minister Byer Suckoo.

In Singapore, the establishment of its first tripartite institution, the National Wages Council, in 1972, paved the way for the creation of other tripartite mechanisms. The National Wages Council brought together tripartite partners to formulate wage-related guidelines through social dialogue to achieve realistic wage adjustments. Singapore was at the time undergoing rapid industrialization which had raised expectations of wage increases. In addition to wage negotiations, the Council helped to create a harmonious industrial relations climate and strengthen social dialogue. The number of strikes decreased dramatically from about 300 in the mid-1950s to none in the 1990s. Several Tripartite Committees are in place to deal with key industrial relations and employment issues.

Mauritius also reported a number of tripartite institutions which handle matters relating to national social and economic development, productive enterprises and the well-being of workers. They include the Labour Advisory Council, created in 1975, the National Economic and Social Council and the National Productivity and Competitiveness Council. While the Ministry of Labour holds overall coordinating responsibility for labour market institutions, the involvement of several other government departments in tripartite relations has provided a strong impetus for placing employment issues in the macroeconomic context. According to delegates, tripartite cooperation has led to successful collective bargaining at the enterprise level.

In the Conclusions adopted at the end of the Symposium, delegates called for the establishment of a regional tripartite mechanism for cooperation on and participation in regional integration processes, and trade and investment negotiations. They proposed the participation of the Caribbean Employers' Confederation (CEC) and the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL) and other relevant regional non-state actors in such an arrangement.

"The Caribbean has good foundations for improving the institutions and practice of social dialogue," said Ms. Elizabeth Tinoco, ILO Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, in her opening remarks. "Caribbean constituents have reaffirmed their commitment to tripartism and social dialogue over the years at the regional and hemispheric levels."

Ms. Tinoco noted that Caribbean delegates at the 17th ILO American Regional Meeting in Santiago, Chile, in December 2010, acknowledged that many of the policy responses and programmes that were put in place to deal with the global economic crisis had been developed and implemented through social dialogue.

"The delegates called for "more effective social dialogue" to make greater progress in economic and social development, " said Ms. Tinoco.

"If countries are to grow on a more equitable, sustained and balanced basis, the macroeconomic policies will also have to target job creation on a priority basis ... Balanced development of labour markets, employment and social protection constitute an indispensable pillar of balanced growth....It is urgent to deepen and broaden the dialogue and cooperation between ministers of finance and ministers of employment and labour - reaching common understanding through social dialogue and finding solutions to crucial issues, " reiterated Ms. Tinoco.

Representatives of 21 Caribbean countries and non-metropolitan territories attended the Caribbean Tripartite Symposium to discuss the role, dimensions and best practices of social dialogue and social partnerships.