BRICS 7th Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting

ILO head: 'Address inequalities to prevent long term scarring'

Speaking at the virtual Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting of BRICS nations, ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, said that COVID-19 recovery plans need to be human-centred, resilient, inclusive and sustainable. The BRICS group of emerging economies are Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Statement | 15 July 2021
Thank you very much Secretary Chandra.

Honourable Minister for Labour and Employment of the Government of India, Mr Bhupender Yadav,
My colleague Mr Marcelo Caetano, Secretary General of ISSA,
Representatives of employers’ and workers’ organizations,

First, let me congratulate the Government of India on its success in organizing this virtual BRICS Labour Ministerial. From our own experience at the ILO over the past two years we know that this takes a great deal of work in current conditions.

COVID-19 has turned our world, and the world of work upside down.

It has derailed progress in reducing poverty around the world, and made achieving decent work for all even more of a challenge.

Repairing the damage caused and making the recovery human-centred, resilient, inclusive and sustainable will require great efforts and considerable resources.

But the declaration that the BRICS Ministers will be adopting today is an important step forward.

It addresses critically important challenges: informality; gender equality; social protection; and the growth of the digital economy.

All of these issues were high on the ILO and the BRICS’ agenda before the pandemic. But today, they acquire even greater significance.

One of the worst aspects of the pandemic was how it exposed and deepened existing vulnerabilities and inequalities.

I believe that your declaration is right to emphasize the hundreds of millions of people who earn their living in the informal economy – six out of every ten workers in the world.

The severe impact of the crisis on them has highlighted the imperative to accelerate progress on the shift from the informal to the formal economy.

Similar considerations apply to the impact on women in the world of work.

We know that, relatively, women lost more jobs than men.

Proportionally, more women have withdrawn from the labour market.

In care work - which is dominated by women - existing gender inequalities have got worse.

If we are to address these issues effectively we need concrete, targeted policies and action. Creating an economic recovery will not of itself be sufficient.

The COVID-19 crisis also accelerated and expanded the use of digital technologies.

These are transforming the way in which work and business is done.

Digital technologies can boost labour productivity, increase flexibility, encourage greater inclusion, and create new jobs - often higher-skilled ones.

But, and this is the other side of the coin, they can undermine fundamental principles and rights at work, if not properly regulated. We need legal frameworks that protect in particular gig and platform workers, and ensure that digital work is also decent work.

Finally, the COVID-19 crisis has shown the vital importance of strong and inclusive social protection systems.

Too many workers were not covered by social protection when the crisis hit, with catastrophic consequences for them and for their families.

So, I welcome your focus on promoting Social Security Agreements between the BRICS countries. This could make a real difference for the millions of workers who travel to other countries to find work.


As I have indicated, all these issues are high on the ILO’s agenda as well.

Last month our 187 Member States at the International Labour Conference adopted a Call to Action for a human-centred recovery. This outlines a comprehensive agenda to ensure that the recovery is inclusive, sustainable and resilient, and based upon fundamental principles and rights at work.

We believe that this approach is essential. Unless we address the inequalities that have deepened during the crisis, there is a real risk that its economic and social consequences will cause long-term scarring.

We need to work together to stop this from happening. So I warmly welcome your support for the ILO Call to Action. It is a very solid platform to deepen our partnership in the future.

All of this will require the full involvement as well of the social partners. So, it is of fundamental importance they are with us today.

Social dialogue has played an essential role in shaping effective and inclusive responses to COVID-19, worldwide.

It has formed the basis of agreements on a wide range of key issues, including protecting employment and wages, supporting businesses, extending social protection and adapting workplace arrangements.


In your meetings in 2019 and 2020, you expressed support for the principle of a human-centred approach to development.

Now is the time to convert these aspirations which we share into concrete action.

Let me assure you that you will have the ILO’s strong and continuing support in this endeavour.

We greatly value the relationship that has grown between us and the BRICS nations. And we look forward to moving ahead with you towards the goal of decent work for all.

I thank you.