BRICS Labour and Employment Ministers’ Meeting

Make social dialogue work

ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, praises the commitment to social dialogue and tripartism made by BRICS nations - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - in a speech at the group’s Labour and Employment Ministers’ Meeting in South Africa.

Déclaration | South Africa | 2 août 2018
Madame Chairperson - Madame Minister Mildred Oliphant,
Honourable Representatives of our host municipality and region,
Ministers, Representatives of Governments, Employers and Workers,
Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I begin by expressing sincere gratitude to you, Madame Minister, and to your team for the excellent arrangements made for this meeting and for bringing us to your beautiful home region.

Thank you too for the opportunity offered to me to address this 4th Meeting of BRICS Labour and Employment Ministers, as I have each of the previous meetings in Ufa, in Delhi and last year in Chongqing.

I think that this reflects the importance of the partnership which has developed between the BRICS group and the ILO since the idea of a BRICS labour track was born in Brazil back in 2014. Allow me to convey to you today how much the ILO values this relationship and our strong commitment to offer you our support for your ongoing work. This is also demonstrated by the presence here in Durban of senior colleagues from the ILO technical departments responsible in each of the issues on your agenda and from the Turin International Training Centre.

Ministers, this commitment has its origins in three considerations:
  • Firstly, individually each of the BRICS countries, for very obvious reasons, plays a key and leading role in our organization and in the international system more generally. Through our offices in each one of your countries we are working closely, and I believe productively, on a permanent basis.
  • Secondly, the BRICS Labour and Employment Ministerials address critically important questions which stand high on the ILO’s agenda of priorities. That is certainly the case with the South African Presidency’s choice of the theme of “Developing Countries for Intensive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the New Industrial Revolution”. So by working with you here collectively we are able to advance these global priorities for a remarkably high proportion of the people that we serve.
  • And the third consideration is that we are very conscious of the great, and increasing, importance that the BRICS Group has acquired on the international stage, and this at a time when the pressures faced by the multilateral system pose important challenges to international cooperation. Proof of this may be found in the BRICS Summit Declaration adopted in Johannesburg just last week. It is, if I may be allowed to say so, a document of great vision, breadth, and ambition, and stands out for its ringing endorsement of the United Nations, of which the ILO is a part, multilateralism, and of the strengthened system of global governance to which we must contribute if the shared prosperity that we seek is to be achieved.
Madame President,

As we move forward from this Ministerial in Durban with the important Declaration that has been proposed for your adoption, to next year’s Brazilian Presidency which in a sense completes the first cycle of BRICS Labour and Employment Ministerial Meetings, my belief is that it is of crucial importance that the issues which we address find their full and proper place not only in BRICS declarations but in substantive cooperative work programmes and in implementation. And I will return to that thought briefly at the end of my remarks.

But just before that, a few comments about the substance of today’s and tomorrow’s agenda.

Certainly the South African Presidency is to be congratulated for giving prominence to social dialogue and tripartism – and the presence of the strong worker and employer representation in this room from which we have already heard shows that it is truly “walking the talk” on this, in BRICS and also in NEDLAC as we have heard, and I am very encouraged that BRICS considers tripartism as an integral part of its work. For obvious reasons this is music to the ILO’s ears. And this meeting comes shortly after this year’s International Labour Conference had an important discussion on social dialogue and adopted a resolution on it. That discussion confirmed the inherent value of social dialogue, particularly at times of deep and accelerated change in work, and reflected the variety of ways in which it can be and is practised in our member States around the world. But I am conscious as well of the pressures and challenges faced by tripartism. Its value is questioned by some, and in general it is becoming more difficult, or so it seems, for us to talk and to listen to each other.

The best response, I believe, is to demonstrate the added value of social dialogue by making it work. So I hope that the fullest use will be made, by the social partners in particular, of the space and opportunity afforded to them here in the BRICS arena.

Madame Minister,

I have the habit of saying that when I ask a Labour Minister of any of our 187 member States what their absolute top priority is, the answer nine times out of ten is jobs for young people. I don’t know if that applies to the BRICS but in any case it is absolutely right that youth employment figure in your deliberations. We know the immensity of the challenge, and we know that we need multi-pronged approaches balancing demand side and supply side interventions, and we know that skills formation must be at the heart of what we do.

From these understandings we simply have to pass to concrete action. At the ILO we are leading the UN-wide Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth, thus spearheading the system’s delivery on the key SDG 8 of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

And because we are aware that youth employment depends crucially on overall labour market conditions, allow me, Madame Minister to congratulate the Government of South Africa for its determination to convene a Jobs Summit later this year. We know how important it is and the ILO stands ready to offer whatever assistance may be helpful to its success.

But in a meeting such as this on inclusive growth and on shared prosperity, we must address the largely unfinished business of women’s participation and equal pay. Not coincidentally this was precisely the subject of my own report to this year’s ILC, which advocated a new push for gender equality. Essentially that report asked one question. How is it possible, more than half a century after the ILO adopted fundamental rights conventions on equal pay and on gender non-discrimination, and following their ratification by the great majority of countries, that a woman still has 30% less chance of being in the labour force – and often being at the bottom of the ladder even then and will be paid on average about 20% less than men.

What, then, are the continuing obstacles to equality and more importantly, what must we do to finally break them down? One of the answers and maybe the most important has to do with care and the care economy. Women today do the overwhelming part of unpaid care work – and this often prevents them entering paid work. World-wide there is a very marked “motherhood employment penalty” for women with young children. Just looking at the BRICS countries, 42% of those women work while for fathers the figure is 88%. Moreover the ILO estimates that a high road and professional care economy has the potential to generate no less than 159 million new jobs in your countries.

And on the issue of pay – the ILO is a co-leader of the new Equal Pay International Coalition, EPIC, established to deliver on SDG 8.5 of the 2030 Agenda which is equal pay for work of equal value. That coalition would gain enormously from the concerted support of the BRICS countries.

Madame Chair,

Coming finally to social protection, it is heartening indeed to recognize both the substantive work undertaken together by BRICS Labour and Employment Ministers, and also the extraordinary progress made at national level in your countries which means that many millions of people previously unprotected now enjoy benefits which enhance their income security and access to health care. This progress is reflected in the interest in ratification of the relevant ILO Conventions in BRICS countries. I particularly refer to Convention 102, and I understand that that process is close to conclusion in the Russian Federation – which I warmly welcome.

Understanding that we still have much to do, and much to learn from each other, I believe that the BRICS Social Security Cooperation Framework, launched last year in Chongqing has enormous potential which we must fully exploit, and which with our colleagues from ISSA the ILO stands ready to support, not least as we take up the challenge of delivering SDG 1.3 on nationally appropriate social protection floors for all.
And that leads me to my final point.

With the Framework on Social Security and the BRICS Network of Labour Research Institutes that was also established in Chongqing last year, you have already put in place some important mechanisms to sustain and to deepen substantive policy cooperation among the BRICS countries. The MoU attached to the draft Durban Declaration provides a platform to take this forward, and I see this as a most important opportunity to ensure that social and labour issues do indeed occupy their full and proper places in BRICS processes.

I regard it as a responsibility of the ILO to accompany you in the initiatives that you decide upon.

That is precisely why my colleagues from the Turin Centre are here and will present to the meeting tomorrow morning a partnership proposal between the BRICS, the Turin Centre and the ILO itself which I believe can help strengthen our work together in the areas of key importance, to give us continuity and to give us capacities for implementation. One of the benefits will be to strengthen our capacities to facilitate South-South and triangular cooperation.

Madame Chair,

These are thoughts which I hope can carry us forward from Durban to the Brazilian Presidency with commitment and with optimism.

I am mindful as others have been that next year is the ILO’s centenary year, and this coincides also with the celebration of the Mandela centenary which we will also mark.

As you know, the ILO is focusing its centenary on the future of work, with a Global Commission, co-chaired by President Ramaphosa of South Africa and the Prime Minister of Sweden, and in which Commissioners of every BRICS country are serving. That Commission will publish its report in January and it may be that BRICS Labour and Employment Ministers will wish to take it into account as you plan the future of your own work. We have real opportunities, I believe, to go forward together.

With this let me again congratulate you, Madame Minister, for your leadership and thank you all for your attention.