BRICS ministerial meeting on Labour and Employment

A two-day BRICS ministerial meeting took place in New Delhi on employment, inclusive development and social security.

Union Minister, Bandaru Dattatreya, Labour and Employment at the BRICS meeting.
During the inaugural address Secretary, Labour and Employment Shankar Aggarwal and Honourable Union Minister Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya spoke of the BRICS forum as a practical cooperation between countries that are deeply committed to foster the agenda of sustainable development. Dattatreya said, “Employment generation is our prime goal and we are at the same time working towards enhancing welfare of our workers. We are committed to inclusive growth and that benefits reach the most marginalized sections of the society.”

The Labour and Employment Ministers of BRICS Nations had met for the first time at Ufa, Russia, in January 2016 to deliberate upon core labour and employment issues such as - informality in the labour market, labour mobility, social security and ensuring decent work, and achieving the 2030 sustainable goals.

Post the inaugural session, presentations were made by the BRICS National Social Partners on Employment & Labour. Several strategies were proposed by both employers’ and trade union representatives on boosting employment, reducing inequality and addressing informality in the labour market.

Gilbert Houngbo, ILO’s Deputy Director-General, spoke about the current growth trends, implication on employment generation, importance of productive development, structural transformation, gaps in the labour market outcomes, and quality of jobs.
(Right to Left) Gilbert Houngbo, ILO Deputy Director-General, Azita Berar Awad, ILO Director of the Employment Policy Department, and Panudda Boonpala, Director ILO DWT for South Asia and Country Office for India.
He said that the BRICS are dealing with common labour market challenges as well as specific issues stemming from their different historical, social and economic trajectories. The BRICS, he said, must look at ways to diversify and broaden their economic basis in order to regain and sustain their growth trajectories. He also spoke of rampant youth unemployment and under-employment and the critical gap in the BRICS labour market which merits specific attention. “The ILO’s approach to comprehensive national employment policy frameworks calls for a diversified array of complementary and coherent measures across macroeconomic, sectoral and labour market intervention to deliver on quality employment outcomes”, Houngbo said.

The Labour Ministers from the BRICS nations discussed interventions in their own countries that tackles labour market issues such as informality, inadequate coverage of social security, skill-enhancement and employability, among others. The Russian labour minister said that social dialogue and tripartism is key to solving labour and social issues. She also spoke of how an ageing population in Russia is posing an impediment to the labour-market needs. Russia is therefore scrutinizing options of structural reforms, mobility of workforce in the country among other measures. She also spoke of the need to invest in vocational training as there has been a great demand for highly-skilled and qualified workers. The minister said that a special attention is paid to employment services in Russia and that there is even a programme exclusively for women to return to the labour market after childbirth. In 2013-2015, 47,000 women who were on maternity leave took part in this professional training. China spoke of the need to boost entrepreneurship. The minister said that while entrepreneurships can tend to be informal, for China it has worked positively. It has helped the youth to be gainfully employed and contributed to the Chinese economy. He said that along with the need for structural reform, fiscal consolidation and others, there is also a need for administrative reform so that entrepreneurship can flourish. Speaking on social security, the Chinese labour minister said that the country aims to completely eradicate poverty for all population by 2020. They will adopt industrial supportive policy, and implement employment transfer while also covering the disadvantaged and vulnerable groups by way of extending the minimum living standards. The aim, the minister said, is to realize the goal of poverty alleviation through sound social protection policies.

Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, making his intervention at the BRICS meeting.
Africa spoke of vocational training for the youth and how organizing job fairs has helped help the youth in their country access job markets. They also said that working with social partners to achieve the decent work agenda will be key. Brazil acknowledging their economic slowdown said that the time is right to reform their labour laws and look at ways to work together with employers, trade unions and other social partners.

ILO’s Director of the Employment Policy Department, Azita Berar Awad presented some key global employment trends. She spoke of the rising youth unemployment world over and the condition of the youth neither being employed nor enrolled in any educational system. Berar informed the delegates of a variety of issues relating to youth unemployment – first the quality of jobs is questionable with the rising trend of informality- especially in the BRICS countries, second the uneven trend in real wages and third premature deindustrialization. She said that the implementation of TVET and skills training in the BRICS countries is a positive step and that it should continue. In the context of economic slowdown, ILO recommended various steps to enhance employment in the BRIC countries.

During the second technical session on day one, Christina Behrendt, ILO Senior Social Protection Policy Specialist, presented. She highlighted that the achievement made by the BRICS countries to extend social security coverage has been impressive. Her presentation spoke about the need for labour portability and benefit coverage and to create a level-playing field in national labour markets by way of universal application of the law. She said that there are several ILO conventions that provide guidance on how to ensure social security coverage for the workforce. Regarding policy innovations, she cited positive measures taken by countries like Brazil which has simplified tax collection and ensured pension coverage, South Africa’s which has extended coverage to domestic and seasonal workers, China which has ensured strong health and pension coverage, Russia which has provided high level of universal social security coverage to all and India which has a fund exclusively set aside for social protection of the construction workers.

She said that social protection helps in enhancing labour market productivity, “If people know that they are protected then they are more willing to contribute to the economy,” she said. She said adapting legal frameworks to ensure social protection is essential and that it is imperative to reach workers in the MSME sector and self-employed sector even those who are working in the rural sector. “There is a need to link financial sustainability to social sustainability as they are two sides of the same coin.”

On Day two of the BRICS ministerial meeting discussions on transition to formality was extensively discussed. All BRICS countries presented their interventions as to how they are addressing issues relating to informality. Many countries like Africa suggested following ILO’s R204 recommendation.

Guy Ryder, Director-General ILO, said it is because of the sheer size of the labour force in the BRICS countries - 45 percent of the world total –that the declaration adopted carries an enormous political and economic weight. He congratulated the Indian presidency for the New Delhi Ministerial Declaration and said that it is an expression of a very strong political will to rebound from the current wave of slower growth.

Also read: ‘Guy Ryder welcomes BRICS countries’ will to boost growth and decent work’
Also visit: Website of BRICS Labour & Employment Ministerial Meeting