Global Policy Forum

ILO Director-General Says Global Jobs Crisis Puts Democracy, Freedom at Risk

International Labor Organization News
June 6, 2005

The huge gap between the trillions in wealth but only a trickle of jobs being created by the global economy poses a growing threat to international security, development and democracy and must be addressed urgently, International Labour Organization (ILO) Director-General Juan Somavia said today. "This global jobs crisis is the most pressing political issue of our time", Mr. Somavia told more than 3,000 government, worker and employer participants in the ILO's 93rd International Labour Conference here. "The warning light is blinking on today's global economy."

Citing ILO data illustrating the contrast between a healthy global growth rate of 5 per cent and a disappointing expansion in employment of only 1.7 per cent in 2004, Mr. Somavia said: "In other words, world output increased by nearly US$ 4 trillion - yet global unemployment was reduced by only 500,000". "Trillions in wealth creation, a trickle of jobs", Mr. Somavia said. "The global jobs crisis is putting security, development, open economies and open societies all at risk. This is not a sustainable course." The ILO Director-General told Conference delegates that the global economy has evolved into "an ethical vacuum - with policies that many feel are organized too much around market values and too little around human values. The overall effect is more insecurity and less freedom".

Mr. Somavia said concern was growing worldwide over the imbalance between globalization and growth and job creation. This was illustrated, he said, by the fact that more than one billion people are unemployed or considered working poor, with almost half the world's labour force living on less than US$ 2 per day. He also said that up to nine out of 10 people in some countries were working in the "unorganized, unprotected, unstable" informal economy and that less than half the young people available for work worldwide were holding jobs last year.

"We must repair the disconnect between economic growth and job creation, rebalance priorities, revalue work and target the right investment policies", Mr. Somavia told the tripartite delegates. "We must move employment and decent work fully into the mainstream of the international development debate." Noting that "work is at the epicenter of the economic, political and social concerns of people," the ILO Director-General said the Organization had responded to the global jobs crisis by reorienting its agenda toward a focus on the ILO's core values, re-energizing its operations and promoting its decent work agenda.

Mr. Somavia cited growing support for the decent work agenda. This support was manifested in such forums as the African Union Extraordinary Summit on Employment and Poverty last September, the ILO's European Regional Meeting in Budapest last February, recent Latin American Heads of State meetings, and the European Union's Commission Social Agenda. In addition, he said that the 2004 report of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization had prompted worldwide debate on making globalization fair and had received the support of the United Nations General Assembly in a resolution adopted last September.

The annual International Labour Conference agenda also reflects this support, Mr. Somavia noted, citing such initiatives as: efforts to help youth to find decent jobs "and ensure that we don't have a 'lost generation'"; describe and propose solutions to employment problems of workers facing "terrible limitations (and) extremely hard" conditions for themselves and their families in the occupied Arab territories; address the "open wound" of forced labour on the global economy; develop a robust new framework for occupational health and safety standards; finalize a comprehensive new standard for the world's fishing industry; review the impact of standards on hours of work; and scrutinize ILO member States on their application of conventions and standards.

The ILO Director-General said that making decent work a global goal requires three interlinked sets of actions:

  • "building our collective capacity" by strengthening trade unions, employers' organizations and ministries of employment, labour and social affairs;
  • strengthening the ILO's efforts to promote decent work at the national and regional level to equip the ILO to contribute more effectively to national priorities;
  • and moving employment and decent work fully into the mainstream of the development debate by putting growth, investment and jobs at the centre of international cooperation.

"Our decent work agenda is key to accelerating the progress towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals", Mr. Somavia said. "Macroeconomic, financial, trade, investment and labour policies must converge making decent work an objective of policy-making, rather than a hoped-for result. We cannot do it alone. But it cannot be done without us. If we have the will to play that role, these things can be done."




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