ILO Statement to the Third Committee of the 67th General Assembly

Equity enhancing policies can reduce risk of future crises

People remain vulnerable and their livelihoods precarious unless there are wider conditions for inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth and development.

Statement | New York | 09 October 2012
Mr. Chair,

The crises that erupted in 2008 - preceded by rising social inequalities – have shown that social equity need not be sacrificed for economic growth. If properly designed, equity enhancing policies can also promote prosperity and reduce the risk of future crises.

The crisis is also proving that although people can be lifted out of poverty through aid, they remain vulnerable and their livelihoods precarious unless there are wider conditions for inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth and development.

The new Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Mr. Guy Ryder, has stated that the crisis has created a window of opportunity for developing new policy approaches; however, creating new jobs is not enough. Economic growth without quality job creation is not sustainable.

Well-designed employment and social policies can be instrumental in ensuring that formal jobs are not replaced by informal and unacceptable forms of work.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for achieving this. Indeed, the obstacles to domestic growth vary across countries, requiring a different mix of infrastructure investment, wage and social protection policies and rural development initiatives, including facilitating enterprise creation and expansion.

In all cases, respect for core labour standards and rights at work are key. According to the ILO’s research, boosting domestic sources of growth would be more effective in sustaining employment and reducing global imbalances than exchange rate changes on their own – an important finding which highlights the relevance of crisis responses inspired by the ILO’s Global Jobs Pact.

As the recent events in countries of the Middle East and North African region have highlighted, employment and balanced income developments are central to social cohesion. Evidence shows that unemployment and inefficient income inequalities are the principal factors explaining social unrest. The issue deserves urgent attention, especially since the trend rise in food prices is likely to exacerbate income inequalities.

The ILO has always stressed that respect for rights at work are essential to recovery. We should not be led into the belief that creating more jobs means abandoning international labour standards.

Mr. Chair,

The ILO’s Decent Work Agenda is widely recognized for its contribution to building sustainable economies and societies, enabling countries to recover from the global crisis with more balanced policies combining economic and social objectives and setting the foundations for a fair globalization.

Decent work and the multiple references to full and productive employment, and social protection are strongly reflected in the key outcome documents of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development 2012, in the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011–20, in the Ministerial Declaration of the 2012 High-level Segment Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and in the report to the Secretary-General of the UN Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda.
At this time I would like to share with you some important steps that the ILO has taken in these critical areas to promote sustainable and equitable growth.

At the 101st Session of the annual International Labour Conference of the ILO in June this year, a new international labour standard, entitled the Recommendation concerning national floors of social protection (No. 202), was adopted nearly unanimously.

The Recommendation provides guidance to member States in building comprehensive social security systems and extending social security coverage by prioritizing the establishment of national floors of social protection accessible to all in need.

The Recommendation reaffirms that social security is a human right and a social and economic necessity as well as an investment in people that empowers them and helps support the transition to a more sustainable economy.

With nearly 75 million unemployed youth, the magnitude of the youth employment crisis cannot be ignored. In response to this challenge, the ILO organized 46 national and regional consultations with young people and convened a major Youth Employment Forum in Geneva at the end of May.

This major knowledge-sharing event brought together several hundred youth representatives from around the world as well as representatives from government, worker and employers organizations to share their expertise and experiences on youth employment. This resulted in an agreed set of conclusions and recommendations entitled
“The Youth Employment Crisis: A Call for Action”.

The Call for Action formed the basis of a resolution that was adopted by the International Labour Conference calling for immediate, targeted and renewed action to tackle the youth employment crisis. It declares that “youth are part of the solution, their voices should be heard, their creativity engaged, their rights respected…”.

The resolution provides a portfolio of tried and tested measures and inter alia calls upon governments to foster pro-employment growth and decent job creation through macroeconomic policies, employability, labour market policies, youth entrepreneurship and rights to tackle the social consequences of the crisis.

In helping society’s most vulnerable, the ILO’s work in combatting child labour is guided by its Global Plan of Action for achieving the elimination of the worst forms of child labour by 2016. The Action Plan builds on the important Roadmap adopted by The Hague Global Child Labour Conference held in May 2010.

The ILO continues to increase its knowledge base on this issue and in June this year launched a new Global Report entitled “Accelerating action against child labour”, stating that the global number of child labourers had declined from 222 million to 215 million, or 3 per cent, over the period 2004 to 2008, representing a “slowing down of the global pace of reduction.” The report also expressed concern that the global economic crisis could “further brake” progress toward the goal of eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016.

The myriad and complex challenges presented by the long aftermath of the financial and economic crises, action on forced labour and trafficking is increasing for the ILO, albeit with limited resources. The ILO recently issued a new forced labour estimate showing that nearly 21 million people are victims of forced labour across the world, trapped in jobs which they were coerced or deceived into and which they cannot leave.

The figures show that the Asia-Pacific region accounts for the largest number of forced labourers in the world – 11.7 million (56 per cent of the global total), followed by Africa at 3.7 million (18 per cent) and Latin America with 1.8 million victims (9 per cent). The new forced labour estimate reflects a higher number in part due to the new methodology employed in developing these numbers.

However, the difficulties and harsh treatment faced by many migrant workers who find themselves often in a desperate search for work of any kind can join these ranks as they fall prey to unscrupulous employers and middle-men who exploit their labour, threaten their families and deny these men and women their basic rights.

An important and noteworthy development in the ILO’s efforts to combat forced labour. The Labour Conference this year lifted restrictions on the full participation of Myanmar and have agreed to a joint strategy for eliminating forced labour. The Government of Myanmar has acknowledged the need for immediate action on this strategy with a view of implementing it before the target date of 2015.

In conclusion, Mr. Chair, let me state that the crisis has not interrupted, and in some regards has accelerated, fundamental processes of change in the world of work.
Continued economic dynamism in some regions has coincided with stagnation or contraction for others. This means that new perspectives have opened up for converting economic growth into decent jobs and social progress for a large part of the world’s population at the same time as social provisions long enjoyed by others are called into question.

We must see these realities as an opportunity for the international community to usher in the necessary rebalancing of the global economy for strong and sustained growth, and to further advance the cause of global social justice.