Working Party on the social dimension of globalization

ILO Director-General's statement on Global economic prospects and the Decent Work Agenda

ILO Director-General introduction to the Working party on the social dimension of globalization - High-level section of the governing body of the ILO. CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

Statement | Geneva | 13 November 2012
Members of the Working Party,

I am pleased to have this chance this morning, to introduce both the document before you concerning “Global Economic Prospects and the Decent Work Agenda” and, more generally, this session of our Working Party on the Social Dimension of Globalization.

This allows me to make some brief comments concerning the circumstances prevailing in the world of work and then to share with you as well, some thoughts about the work of the Working Party itself.

Firstly then, the global prospects.

There are 30 million more jobless in the world than before the crisis; 40 million more have simply left the labour force.
The information in the document before you makes for unpleasant reading. The global crisis of unemployment triggered by the financial crisis is still with us – very much so. There are 30 million more jobless in the world than there were before the crisis hit when unemployment was already high; 40 million more have simply left the labour force. I think these figures are alarming. They should make every one of us in this room – Employer, Government or Worker – pause and bring to mind what they mean in terms of lives blighted, families and communities damaged and our societies challenged. Then pause again – because this is the real issue – to identify together what we must do to act to make a difference.

There is a certain need to confront ourselves with these realities. But a simple lamentation of what is certainly unacceptable would equally certainly be a less than adequate discharge by the ILO of its responsibilities. Even – or perhaps especially – in this non-decision-making body our discussion must surely focus on how best the ILO can concretely contribute – along with others – to overcoming the global jobs crisis. Restoring to all people the dignity of a chance of a decent job, restoring to enterprises the conditions in which they can survive and prosper, and to societies their stability and harmony.

I believe we must act practically, responsibly, within our mandate, and – above all – with the urgency which comes from a determined common purpose.

If – we seemed all to agree last week – the ILO’s task is to help get the world back to work, then this morning is the moment for us to roll up our sleeves and start the job.

All the more so because conditions out there in the world of work show few signs of improvement and many are getting worse. The latest growth forecasts from the IMF (see table 1 of the document before you) show that the expected further slowdown will simply add to the jobs gap through next year at least.

The danger, then, is of falling into a prolonged period of sustained high unemployment, immensely damaging, which among other things would set back the fight against global poverty in a manner we should not be ready to countenance. Just think, kick-starting the post-2015 development agenda, to which we will come later in this session, in this type of situation would be like trying to get your car to move forward in first gear when you are actually rolling backwards down a very steep hill. It will be very difficult.
Kick-starting the post-2015 development agenda in this type of situation would be like trying to get your car to move forward in first gear when you are actually rolling backwards down a very steep hill.

Members of the Working Party,

Before this body, which is not just tripartite but global in composition, I am conscious that this crisis is not uniform in its impact. It is certainly global, but it is being lived very differently in the different regions and in your different countries. There are consequences to this unequal reality.

Firstly, some may feel that the imperative for action is really not so strong for them. A slowdown of growth from very high to only moderate levels may be unfortunate, may be inconvenient – but hardly a major crisis.

Secondly, there will be differing perceptions of who is actually responsible for this crisis. This matters too. Because with attribution of responsibility generally goes expectation of leadership in action to put things right.

Whatever one thinks of this, the reality of interdependence in the global economy nevertheless requires that our policy responses need to be calibrated internationally. It would certainly be a step back from the determined international cooperation which did much to counter the unfurling global crisis in 2008 and 2009 if individual countries or regional groupings cede to the pressures or the temptation to look inwards in the search for isolated solutions to their own pressing problems without reference to the global consequences. Such efforts would also be likely, I believe to prove futile.

The completion of economic and monetary union in Europe; addressing the fiscal cliff in the United States; major leadership change in China; and much else of vital national or regional significance is taking place. But the point is that each is of global impact as well, mattering to us all. And it is worth remembering too that in a world where, very soon, maybe next year, the economic weight of the old industrial countries will be less than that of the new emerging and developing world, that the constellation of global production, investment and finance in the world of work is undergoing massive, transformational change. Worth remembering too that Africa is enjoying its most encouraging period of sustained growth. And all of this needs to be firmly in our minds as we design appropriate policy responses.

And for the responses to be useful, relevant, practical, as I have argued last week all of the ILO’s activities must be, we need to acknowledge as well, the enormous complexity of the issues at hand and calibrate the real opportunities for ILO action and the principles which must guide them.

In Europe in particular, I cannot help but believe that the balance between social and economic goals is in danger of being lost.
In this regard, and accepting the premise that it is the essence of the vocation of the ILO to ensure that economic growth and social progress go hand in hand, it stands to reason that in times of crisis such as this, the ILO must be to the fore in ensuring that the social impacts of crisis response policies are properly addressed. And I have to be frank in saying that, in Europe in particular, I cannot help but believe that the balance between social and economic goals is in danger of being lost. The ILO, at different times and in different places has been instrumental in preserving such balance and we would forget our history at our peril.

Members of the Working Party,

In urging you all to focus on the key issue – and I believe that it is what the ILO should be contributing to get the world back to work – let me remind you too of what I believe was common ground between us last week for we have to be coherent in our own discussions. And I believe the common ground was:
  • that the indispensable foundation for ILO policy advocacy and influence is technical and analytical excellence, and we are setting about the task of reinforcing that;
  • I also believe we agreed that these efforts must be directed by the Organization’s enduring values and objectives articulated now in the decent work agenda.
To this I would add the understanding that we need to be in a position to respond better – quicker and with the required quality to national constituent needs particularly in the areas of critical importance we discussed.

This morning’s debate helps us focus on the layers of ILO action which must be added to this – regionally and globally. I follow in my predecessor’s footsteps in urging deeper engagement with regional bodies – in each and every region. I see potential in more systematic interaction with the regional development banks, for example and will make a quick start on that.

In Europe, next April’s Regional Meeting generously hosted by the Government of Norway provides real opportunity – not to be missed – to fix our role in a continent at the epicentre of the crisis.

In a similar vein, not only must the ILO maintain its visibility and protagonism at the global level, but must also use its influence bringing it to the table to have global institutions and groupings better address the global jobs crisis. Emblematically, it is the G20 which has taken the lead in crisis response and its leaders have, with the ILO and its constituents playing their role, emphasized the need for action to promote decent work – most recently at Los Cabos, Mexico, in June. And, in the light of subsequent events I felt it right to recall commitments made in Los Cabos in my statement to the IMF/World Bank meetings in Tokyo recently.

What I believe is now needed is for the momentum to be maintained under the incoming Russian G20 Presidency with which the ILO looks forward to working closely, building on what we will do together in a different setting – the important Decent Work Conference in Moscow next month. We will continue to contribute to the Employment Task Force’s ongoing work, together with the L-20 (Labour) and B-20 (Business) and we will engage energetically around the activities of labour ministers.

All of this can only be strengthened by a corresponding strengthening of our bilateral cooperation with the sister international organizations which like the ILO input to the work of the G20. My first personal contacts with President Kim at the World Bank, and the Bank’s recent publication of its World Development Report, entitled simply “Jobs”, convince me that there is a great deal we can do together and much we