What works in overcoming the jobs crisis?

ILO seminar looks at experiences that worked in mitigating the crisis' effects

News | 31 March 2010

The main effects of the global crisis on employment worldwide have now been broadly discussed and analysed. The way out the crisis is still less clear however, as there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The global crisis is proving nevertheless to be a driver of policy innovation as governments; employers and workers together have created a number of solutions that work.

The ILO Governing Body heard a panel of experts who showcased how a few countries that applied the right mix of policies, adapting them to national contexts, are faring better in recovery than others. The seminar, organized by the International Institute for Labour Studies (IILS), looked at policies that, backed by strong political will, have proven their efficiency in economies on the rebound. “Bolsa Familia” in Brazil, the French “revenu de solidarité active” or “kurzarbeit” in Germany are only few examples of well-designed policies which helped some countries avoid falling further into recession.

IILS Director Raymond Torres recalled previous crises and reminded participants that decentralization of jobs is part of the recovery. Given jobs retention and usual lags in hiring decisions, the initial stages of the economic rebound will entail little jobs creation. Employment in high GDP per-capita countries will not return to pre-crisis levels before 2013. In emerging and developing countries, employment levels could start recovering from 2010, but will not reach pre-crisis levels before 2011.

It is imperative that countries act quickly and in a targeted manner. Australia, Brazil, Germany, Jordan and the Republic of Korea have successfully implemented measures consistent with the Jobs Pact by focusing on job-centred responses. “But unless the global financial system is reformed, these policies, no matter how just, well-formulated and thoroughly applied, will not be enough for a speedy employment recovery”, Torres said.

Bruno Coquet, Chair of the EU Employment Committee, reiterated that policy measures applied in the EU were fairly similar, but the intensity and the duration of their implementation differ in each country, as work sectors were also differently exposed to the crisis. “We can target problems in the right direction, as we have a common culture, but the solutions, even if convergent, are applied differently”, Coquet said.

Márcio Pochmann, President of the Institute for Applied Economics (IPEA) of Brazil presented the case of Brazil, where the impact of the crisis on the labour market was less intense due to the policy package implemented by the Government. The Bolsa Família (Family Grant Programme) and its conditional cash-transfer schemes guaranteed purchasing power to 11.6 million poor families (46 million individuals). Combining social security and welfare benefits, currently 34.1% of the Brazilian population is covered by some sort of guaranteed-income mechanism, especially the lower-income segments, which is unprecedented compared to other periods of strong economic downturn. Sound investment policies in energy and infrastructure, combined with tax reductions in labour intensive sectors and adapted social policies helped Brazil avoid further declines in unemployment.

In Germany, the current signs of economic recovery and the “German job miracle” are not a result of single measures, but of a whole “spirit to overcome the crisis together”, said Mike Sommer of Germany, President of the Confederation of German Trade Unions and member of the Workers Group in the ILO Governing Body. “We’ve been able to stabilize labour and unemployment and industrial jobs using kurzarbeit (short-time work) and other measures accompanied by government measures through automatic stabilizers,” he said.

Despite the fact that Germany was probably the European country mostly affected by the crisis, the country is now experiencing strong labour market rebound said Ulrich Walwei, Vice-Director of IAB in Nurenberg. Germany developed a culture of “short-time work” to retain workers, covering over one million people who kept their jobs throughout the crisis. Reduced working hours and reduced overtime were among the services supported by the stimulus package and recommended in the Jobs Pact.

Dagoberto Lima Godoy of Brazil, Employers' Representative of the ILO Governing Body stressed that policies should encompass both anti-cyclical and compensating dimensions in the long-term recovery. Commending the role played by the social partners, Lima Godoy reiterated the need to boost entrepreneurship and called upon ILO constituents to go beyond short-term in applying the Jobs Pact measures.

Despite clear increases of the GDP in some countries, additional jobs will still be lost in the next two years. The willingness to act, pragmatic soundness, preventive measures and policy renewal are essential tools in coping with the crisis. “The social dimension is part of the solution and part of the economic reply to the crisis,” said Gilles De Robien, French Government Delegate to the Governing Body. The link between social protection and employment, advocated by the Global Jobs Pact and used by most countries on the rebound, needs to be sustained beyond recovery if we are to reinvent a new model of growth that can benefit all.