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G8 LABOUR AND EMPLOYMENT MINISTERS
MONTREAL, 26-27 APRIL 2002
1. Labour and Employment Ministers from the G8 countries
met in Montreal together with representatives of the EU Commission, the ILO
and the OECD, to discuss the skill and learning challenges of the 21st
Century. Based on an optimistic prediction of short and medium-term growth
prospect, Ministers gave particular attention to three inter-related themes:-
(i) increasing participation in the labour force and promoting an
inclusive society; (ii) promoting lifelong learning; and
(iii) increasing opportunity.
2. The discussions were based on a background document
"The Knowledge Imperative" as well as on a presentation by the OECD
and - to a lesser extent - on submissions by the ILO, BIAC and TUAC. The
background paper prepared by Human Resource Development Canada (HRDC) tried to
identify skills and learning policies as common priorities. In doing so, it
examined and discussed key factors driving the need for learning renewal.
Moreover, it suggested a broad framework within which a "strategic"
learning policy response should be designed and implemented.
3. The background paper identified three imperatives
considered to be calling for action now:-
- Rising skill demands;
- Shifting demographics; and
- Outdated learning systems.
However, only one of the proposed directions for a skills
and learning framework was discussed by Ministers - the need to improve the
skill level of the current workforce by increasing adult learning
4. Diverting from the focus on learning, the OECD
submission discussed ways to "improve job opportunities". Without
giving particular attention to downside risks of the current economic
situation, in particular a "jobless" recovery, the document
dismissed the importance of macro policies in improving the employment
performance of OECD countries. Instead it claimed that the credentials of
these improvements must be given to "a reform process which has been
carried out in connection with the OECD Jobs Strategy".
5. In contrast to the findings of the "Growth
Study", the OECD background paper as well as the oral presentation by the
OECD Secretary-General, urged Ministers to give greater priority to some Jobs
Strategy recommendations and to shift to a "carrot and stick"
approach in order to move welfare recipients back to work.
6. In this regard, the trade union statement submitted to
the Ministerial meeting, warned against a simplistic notion of "labour
market flexibility", demanding workers to give up social protection, job
security and decent wages. Moreover, the statement urged Ministers to focus on
functional instead of external flexibility as contradictory to the vision of
the knowledge imperative.
Consultation with Ministers
7. Prior to the Ministerial meeting, in the afternoon of
25 April, joint consultations were held between almost all of the
Ministers of the G8 countries and representatives of both BIAC and TUAC. The
trade union delegates (list attached) expressed a broad agreement with the
background paper on the knowledge imperative, that "a knowledgeable
workforce is a key factor in economic growth, increased productivity and
social progress". However, they also emphasised strongly whilst a focus
on skills and learning is necessary, it is not a sufficient condition for
achieving employment, decent work and sustainable growth.
8. Referring to the trade union statement, delegates also
urged Ministers to base policies aiming to promote further training of adult
workers on a broader agenda to help establish responsible corporate behaviour
and socially acceptable management of change at the workplace. The call to
give workers a voice in the process of managing organisational and
technological change was underscored by a reference to the OECD Growth Study.
9. With regard to previously adopted charters and
commitments expressed by G8 Labour Ministers, delegates urged Ministers to
propose a detailed Action Plan responding to the knowledge imperative
as suggest in a more detailed way by the trade union statement.
10. Moreover, a number of interventions made by trade union
delegates during the consultations with Ministers also emphasised the need to
use collective bargaining between unions and employers as a means to promote
lifelong learning, in particular to make it more feasible in practice and to
strengthen incentives for employers to invest in workforce training. It was
pointed out that collective bargaining agreements on further training would
substantially reduce the "poaching problem".
11. Trade union delegates also welcomed the opportunity
exchanging views with Ministers and to discuss the need of policy action to
make lifelong learning a reality for all. With regard to the G8 process they
also emphasised the need of openness and transparency in discussing steps to
set out an effective framework aimed to build the social dimension of
globalisation and to contribute to improvements in global governance. In the
consultations the OECD Secretary-General argued for need for a forum where
Labour Ministers and Finance Ministers could meet and offered the OECD in this
12. At the beginning of the Ministerial meeting leaders of
both the TUAC and BIAC delegations were given the opportunity to summarise
briefly the main conclusions from the consultations of the day before. TUAC
drew the attention of Ministers to the following points:-
- The need at future G8’s to integrate more closely
the consultations with the Social Partners in the meeting itself;
- The agreement on the priority of achieving more
equity in the access to training and lifelong learning;
- The key role that unions played and could play in
- The need to ensure that skills acquisition was part
of a wider agenda for a "high road" to managing labour market
- The worsening immediate unemployment situation and
the need to bring Finance Ministers as well as Labour Ministers to a
discussion on employment; and
- The wider debate on the social dimension of
globalisation and the need to support the ILO work in this area.
The Chair’s Conclusions
13. In close line with the background paper on the
knowledge imperative, the draft conclusions are trying to address a broad set
of challenges related to the need to improve training opportunities and to
facilitate up-skilling of the workforce. According to the issues discussed by
Ministers, the text is organised in three sections.
14. Beside the complacency expressed with regard to the
current economic situation, the introductory part emphasises that more and
better jobs as well as improved employability and adaptability are needed.
Interaction between social partners and public authorities is seen as
prerequisite to achieve these objectives and to ensure "a good balance
between the flexibility of work organisation and security for workers".
15. It is also important to note that the conclusions are
pointing out that the discussion on skills and learning is part of a larger
debate on the opportunities, social consequences and challenges of
globalisation. The very first draft of the conclusions did not make this
16. The section on "increasing participation ..."
begins by emphasising that active labour market measures and policies to make
work pay are of vital importance for bringing the unemployed back into work
and for increasing participation rates. Moreover, this section also indicates
the agreement on expanding access to learning in favour of groups typically
disadvantaged in the labour market. In doing so, the need to enable older
workers to keep and get jobs as well as to promote gender equality and
participation of women by respecting a work-family balance is also expressed.
17. The conclusions however don’t take into account that
the road from welfare to work is quite often bumpy and disappointing, if it
comes to the quality of jobs, income and career perspectives. With regard to
activation policies it must be noted that Ministers did not take into account
sufficiently the need to go beyond the quantitative aspects of jobs and to
create also better jobs. Activation policies must take into account:-
- The specific job characteristics (pay, hours, skill
- The work environment (health and safety, training
opportunities, career prospects); as well as
- Subjective job satisfaction as perceived by workers.
The promotion of better jobs, in particular of quality in
work, contributes to both increasing productivity and adaptability at the
18. The following section of the conclusions on
"promoting lifelong learning ..." reaffirm the G8 governments’
commitment to the Cologne Charter as well as the need to make learning systems
better serving the needs of workers and to maintain the motivation to learn
throughout life. Following suggestions repeatedly made by business
representatives, Ministers also agreed to promote innovations in learning,
such as e-learning.
19. In contrast to an earlier draft of the conclusions, the
final version states "that the scope of lifelong learning is much broader
than government responsibility alone". It is for this reason, that
Ministers agreed on an effective and concerted partnership, including beside
governments also organised labour, business, local authorities and training
institutions as well as families and individuals in order to ensure access to,
and quality of education and training.
20. The Ministers’ meeting began with a very narrow
agenda on skills. The final conclusions cover a broader agenda in part due to
the arguments made by the trade union delegation. The general tone is not a
radical move towards labour market deregulation and in that sense is more
balanced than some other developments in G8 countries. This may prove of use
in national debates. Key questions remain with regard to:-
- Follow-up of the recommendations;
- The link to the Kananaskis Summit;
- The integration of consultations into future G8
- The link to the 2003 OECD Labour Ministers’
- The proposal of the OECD Secretary-General to use the
OECD as a forum for joint Finance and Labour Ministers discussion.
G8 LABOUR & EMPLOYMENT MINISTERIAL MEETING
Montreal, 25-27 April 2002
Provisional list of participants: