ILO Statement to the 52nd Commission for Social Development

Empowerment needed to tackle growing inequality and vulnerability

The world needs a commitment to full employment and decent work that safeguards human and workers’ rights in order to move the development agenda forward.

Statement | New York | 12 February 2014
52nd Session Commission for Social Development

Item (3a) Priority Theme:
"Promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all"

Statement delivered by: Ms. Jane Stewart,
Special Representative and Director, ILO Office for the United Nations

Madame Chair,

Decent Work is the best way to promote empowerment because it is through gainful employment that people connect to society and the economy. Where jobs are scarce there is less growth, less security and less social integration. Considering the current global labour market situation, we have a long way to go.

According to a recent ILO report, global labour markets continue to face several challenges, including a high and rising number of jobseekers with almost 202 million unemployed, widespread underemployment, informal work and large numbers of working poor. This affects primarily the poor and the most vulnerable on the labour market: women, youth, minorities, persons with disabilities.

Looking forward, the long-term prospects for the creation of a sufficient number of quality jobs are not encouraging. Sluggish global economic growth, volatile financial markets, technological change and demographic shifts - all those factors will keep the pressure on the world of work for several years to come.

An empowering approach is central to tackling the problem of growing inequality and vulnerability. It should encompass a commitment to full employment, sustainable enterprises, well-designed social policies, institutions and legal frameworks to promote and safeguard human and workers’ rights, social dialogue and participation in decision-making. This is an approach that resonates deeply with the ILO.

We are very impressed by the many positive examples of social and economic programmes for empowerment offered by the countries that participated in the discussion. In developing and developed countries alike, inclusive growth, decent jobs and social integration are at the top of political concerns and policy action.

We are especially encouraged by the support given to the idea of a social protection floor. Nationally defined social protection floors, based on ILO Recommendation 202 and offering a basic set of income and health guarantees would be a powerful tool for empowerment. The discussion on the technical design and the financial feasibility is well ahead. It is time for implementation.

Action is also needed to promote social inclusion within a resource constrained world. Without acting on urgent environmental problems, many jobs and livelihoods could be lost due to resource depletion and environmental degradation, with serious implications for disempowered and vulnerable groups of the population. The ILO underscores that the transition to a greener economy should be seen as an opportunity to generate decent jobs. The Commission is well placed to further define the social dimension of sustainable development and ensure a socially inclusive implementation strategy.

Madame Chair,

Experience shows that economic growth alone is not sufficient to trigger inclusive, job rich and sustainable development. Today, advanced economies as well as some emerging and developing countries including Sub-Saharan Africa are showing signs of economic recovery yet labour markets remain uneven and fragile, inequalities and wealth concentration are rising and the numbers of those who risk to be left behind is increasing. While growth is fundamental, it is its social dimension that commands closer scrutiny.

Since its creation, the Commission has been at the forefront in advocating for prosperous, inclusive and just societies. This underpinned the original agreement in Copenhagen to shift to a new development paradigm with a stronger focus on employment and social inclusion.

As we approach the twentieth anniversary of the World Summit for Social Development and as the international community focuses its attention on the post-2015 agenda, the Commission has an important opportunity to remind policy makers that the commitments pledged at Copenhagen remain relevant today.

You may know that the ILO Governing Body has proposed the adoption of full and productive employment and decent work as an explicit goal of the future global development agenda, including a reference to the need for social protection floors. This call goes well beyond the ILO.

Better job opportunities were among the top three priorities - together with education and healthcare - identified by 1.4 million people from 194 countries who participated in the My World 2015 global survey. Job creation also emerged as a pressing need in nearly all the countries where the UN had post-2015 national consultations and it was among the key priorities identified by the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons and other groups of experts and stakeholders.

A sustainable development goal on employment and decent work could function as a leverage point to drive a really transformative agenda for poverty eradication and sustainable development. It could encourage integrated policy-making, since decent jobs requires coherent economic, social and environmental measures to assist private sector development. Targets to support such a goal, with simple and clear indicators adapted to national circumstances, could catalyse action to provide sustainable empowerment opportunities to youth, women, minorities and people with disabilities.

Madame Chair,

The history of the ILO over the past 90 years shows that the pathway to social justice is difficult. But if we look back we realize that much progress has been achieved. In recent years, important advances have been made in the social policies of many developing countries. Today, we have an unchanged moral imperative, tested policy instruments and a new occasion to move further ahead.

Thank you.