Texte en français 



(Washington D.C., 24-26 February 1999)



1. The meeting of Labour Ministers was originally planned as a follow-up to the 1998 G8 meetings which had agreed on “national action plans” on employment policy. In the event the main focus of the conclusions of the Chair (US Labor Secretary Alexis Herman) were on the social and employment response to the global economic crisis and what the Ministers called the “Blueprint for sustaining globalisation”. The meeting was preceded on 20 February by a meeting of G7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors in Bonn, which discussed the economic crisis and international financial architecture issues. 

2. Following the precedent established in 1997 and 1998 at the Kobe and London Jobs Conference, trade union and employers’ representatives were invited to take part in the opening conference session and subsequent working dinner with the US Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. A joint TUAC-ICFTU delegation led by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney took part and presented a joint statement on the Global Economic Crisis. Presentations were also made by the Secretary-General of the OECD and the outgoing and incoming Director-Generals of the ILO. 

G7 Finance Ministers’ Meeting 

3. The Finance Ministers agreed to work on “general principles of good practice in social policy” as a basis for the design of World Bank and IMF adjustment programmes (a Social Code). The technical work for this has been entrusted to the World Bank without Labour Ministers’ involvement and the outcome at the moment appears unclear. A debate took place on the need for reflationary action to re-stimulate global demand and significantly the focus shifted from Japan to Europe with US calls on the Europeans to take over from the US economy as the main engine for demand growth. 

4. Disagreements appeared between the European Central Bankers and Finance Ministers on this. Divergences were also apparent over the shape of the international financial architecture. The US Treasury remains committed to more liberalisation of capital flows, whilst others were pushing for re-regulation. Unable to agree on a new approach, they established a “Financial Stability Forum” to meet twice a year under the Chair of the Bank for International Settlements in Basle. This goes only part of the way to meet the international trade union movement’s call for an International Commission to examine Financial Market Regulations. It remains to be seen what access there is to the Forum. 

Assessment of the Labour Ministers’ Conference 

5. The trade union interventions focused on five priorities: 

- Urging Labour Ministers to be a voice within governments and institutions in favour of demand growth in the world economy; 

- The enforcement of core workers’ rights; 

- The establishment of a “Social Code” as a response to the crisis; 

- The need for better co-operation between the international financial institutions and the ILO; 

- The need for the reform process of the international financial architecture to be more democratically accountable.

Demand Growth and Co-operation with Finance Ministers 

6. In response to the trade union statement, the Chair’s Conclusions note that “strategies require the integration of employment policies and macroeconomic policies at the national and international levels” (paragraph 2) and Ministers commit themselves to “working in common with our Finance Ministers, greater co-operation among G8 countries’ employment and macroeconomic policies” (paragraph 4). In agreeing to future meetings they conclude “we agree to continue our dialogue in a comprehensive way, particularly with Economic Ministries” (paragraph 18). Canada and Italy have both agreed to host future meetings. 

The Enforcement of Core Workers’ Rights 

7. The Chair’s Conclusions state “global economic growth must take place under conditions of social justice in order to sustain globalisation. This calls for the universal respect of core labour rights, which we agree to pursue as a key objective” (paragraph 3). They note that restrictions on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining constitute an obstacle to dealing with the financial and economic crises (paragraph 9). They affirm their support for the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and its Follow-Up Mechanism as a “key tool” and call for stronger involvement of unions and employers (paragraphs 11 and 12). However, on the link with trade (paragraph 15) the conclusions only use past language on “continued collaboration between the ILO and the WTO Secretariats on these issues”. It appears that more practical proposals for joint work between the ILO and WTO were blocked, in particular by the Japanese government delegation. 

8. In calling for more employer-trade union involvement the conclusions support the “international promotion of rules and codes of conduct to encourage socially responsible business” and ask specifically for contributions from the ILO and OECD (paragraph 12). 

“Social Code” 

9. The Labour Ministers do not refer directly to the G7 Finance Ministers’ call for a “Social Code”, and do not appear to have any direct input affecting its elaboration. In a significant paragraph, however, they note that globalisation does carry risks for workers and states as obstacles to effective social responses to the crises:- “the weakness of labour institutions and labour law enforcement”; “inadequate social safety nets”; and “limited effectiveness of labour market policies” (paragraph 9). They also agree “to make better use of international organisations to help establish the labour market institutions and strong social safety nets” (paragraph 10). They call on the ILO to establish a “rapid response capacity” to implement social safety nets (paragraph 13). The OECD is urged to co-operate with the ILO, also in its work with non-members “to address the employment and labour policy implications of structural changes arising out of the increasing integration of world economies” (paragraph 14). 

International Financial Institutions / ILO Co-operation 

10. The conclusions do not go as far as the 1998 G7 Finance Ministers’ endorsement of the “international financial institutions’ support for the work of the ILO in promoting core labour standards”. But do propose that the “need to integrate the work of the ILO and the IFI’s be considered at the June 1999 ILO Conference and at other appropriate meetings of these organisations” (paragraph 16). 

Conclusions and Follow-Up 

11. The discussion on national employment strategies was not the central issue of the meeting. Nevertheless it is important to note that the Chair’s conclusions on this subject confirm a move away from the 1980’s approach to labour market deregulation and “flexibility” towards a more acceptable notion of “adaptability” based on inclusion and lifelong learning. 

12. On the international issues, the trade union call for greater pressure from Labour Ministers in both national and international debates with Finance Ministers was taken up in the meeting’s conclusions. For the future it would be most effective if the Labour Ministers’ meeting took place jointly with Finance or Trade Ministers and we will work to this end. It is significant that core labour standards and effective social safety nets are also now clearly seen as part of the solution to global crises. In practical terms, however, the failure of the Ministers to go further and propose joint work between the ILO and WTO is disturbing. 

13. Unions in the G8 countries should follow up these key points and make intensive use of the Labour Ministers’ Conclusions in dialogue with other government Ministers in the run-up to the Cologne G8 Summit in June. We will also seek to establish access to the “Financial Stability Forum” and follow up points relevant to the ongoing review of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The ICFTU is also seeking to make an input to the drafting of the “Social Code” now underway in the World Bank  

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