TUAC EVALUATION

 

 

 



Texte en franšais

TRADE UNION STATEMENT TO
THE TURIN G8 LABOUR CONFERENCE (1)

Turin, 10-11 November 2000

 

1. The Turin Labour Conference is taking place at a crucial time for the G8 countries in four respects. Firstly, there is an opportunity to continue to reduce unemployment with the aim of achieving full employment if faster growth can be sustained. Yet the macroeconomic situation cannot be taken for granted, as the recent repercussions of oil price rises show. Secondly, the implications of Information and Communication Technologies began to be examined at the Okinawa Summit with the establishment of a "dot.force". However, there is a need for a more developed policy response to the labour and social implications and in particular action to ensure that the "digital divide" does not further contribute to the social divide. Thirdly, there is growing public concern in G8 countries and beyond over the detrimental side-effects of an approach to globalisation based on simple deregulation of markets, whilst at the same time extremely little is done to assist the large majority of the world's population who remain trapped in poverty. It is essential that the Labour Ministers use the occasion of the Turin Conference to give clear messages for action in each of these areas. Fourthly, the Conference also gives an opportunity to take stock of the labour market and social implications of the ageing of populations in the industrialised countries and to ensure that action is taken to ensure that equitable access exists to the labour market for older workers.

Achieving Full Employment

2. The return to full employment is possible for the first time in a generation. The G8 countries appear set for a period of faster economic growth which is the single most important factor for creating jobs. Recent US experience has shown that sustained demand growth can bring unemployment below artificial estimates of structural unemployment, it can in turn stimulate improved productivity and welcome, though long-delayed, reductions in inequality.

3. In the G8 as a whole, the favourable growth outlook cannot be taken for granted because the recent risks and uncertainties surrounding the oil price increases show that the macroeconomic situation is still problematic. G8 Central Banks and Finance Ministers must adopt and maintain growth-orientated monetary policies and supportive fiscal policies. They should stand ready to take expansive action in the event of worsening economic and employment growth prospects. G8 Labour Ministers must act as a strong voice within governments, in favour of pro-growth and anti-poverty policies. It is significant that the current oil shock has been absorbed without second round effects on wages and prices. This shows the priority that negotiators are giving to employment in current wage rounds.

4. The Turin G8 Labour Conference should engage in a dialogue with the social partners on the action needed to remove any bottlenecks appearing on the supply-side of the G8 economies. As far as Europe is concerned, the European Commission's Employment Guidelines need to be reinforced. Active labour market and training and retraining measures need to be adequately financed and extra financial resources are needed.

5. More generally, it is essential that social goals of reducing poverty and achieving greater equity are integrated with economic strategies for sustaining faster growth. Policies to "make work pay" must be based on increasing opportunities for decent work through the integration of well-set minimum wages, in-work benefits and policies to set career paths for low income workers through raising productivity and access to training and retraining. It is essential that investment in adequate child-care and negotiated adaptable work schedules is used to ensure general equality and increase job opportunities for women. More quantitative targets for gender equity should be introduced into the EU's Employment Guidelines.

Ensuring Decent Work in the Knowledge Economy

6. It is essential to end the sterile debate on labour market flexibility and to step beyond the simplistic notion of "flexibility", where workers are expected to give up social protection, decent wages, or job security whilst corporate executive remuneration rises explosively. In the "knowledge economy", competitive advantage will lie with those countries that have strong social cohesion built on investment in education and training as well as solid industrial relations that give workers an effective voice and the tools to influence change. The G8 economies must lead the way by encouraging those institutions such as unions that are able to balance the market pressures of adaptation and dynamism with social concerns of security and dignity. 

7. The risk of the digital divide appearing in OECD societies must be countered. The challenges presented by the "new economy" give an opportunity to now put in place an agenda of action for the socially acceptable management of change. The decision of the Okinawa Summit to establish a dot.force and the Okinawa Charter on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) touch on the issues affecting the digital divide and social questions. The Turin G8 Labour Conference gives an opportunity for the G8 Labour Ministers to begin a serious examination of the workplace and labour dimension of ICT. In conjunction with the social partners, Ministers should make commitments to:- invest in education and training systems appropriate to the needs of a knowledge-based economy; ensure that "lifelong learning" is made a reality and a broad-based entitlement; promote agreements between trade unions and employers focusing on the management of change; ensure that workers and their unions have the right of access to online information and communication networks at the workplace; encourage forms of work organisation providing for enlarged job content and enhanced skills; ensure, in partnership with unions and firms, affordable access by individuals to the internet; guarantee appropriate privacy and protection of personal data; re-affirm the need for labour regulation to protect workers in their relationship with their employer - new forms of work arrangements must not become a means to deny workers' rights.

Global Action to Improve Labour Standards and Reduce Poverty

8. G8 Labour Ministers must give a clear signal to their own populations and to the rest of the world that they will work for a set of effective social rules to govern globalisation so as to achieve a more broadly-based and equitable distribution of the benefits of growth. Giving workers a voice at work is impossible if basic workers' rights do not exist.

9. The unbalanced approach to globalisation based on the simple deregulation of markets has led to a questioning of the multilateral trade and investment system as the failure of the MAI and the Seattle WTO Ministerial Meeting have shown. If the system is to have legitimacy then trade and investment rules must be made coherent with wider concerns of public policy such as environmental protection and sustainable development, food and product safety and the observance of fundamental labour rights. Developing countries must be better integrated into the WTO decision-making process and given increased access to industrialised country markets within a framework of adherence to core labour standards. G8 Labour Ministers at Turin must both set out a credible agenda to build the social dimension of globalisation and, "build bridges" with those developing countries that have genuine concerns. The key to this is implementation and effective enforcement of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work as a system wide standard which needs to be applied through all multilateral institutions:- the International Financial Institutions, OECD and WTO. Concrete co-operation needs to be developed between the WTO and ILO to ensure that the multilateral trading system is made consistent with observing core labour rights and environmental protection.

10. The proposal from G7 Finance Ministers in 1998 and 1999 for a Social Code for the activities of the World Bank and IMF has now become buried in the UN system. G8 Labour Ministers should call for renewed action on this. There must also be a structured arrangement for consultation with the trade union movement at the International Financial Institutions and the WTO. Following the 1999 call by the G8 leaders for work by the OECD on export credits and the environment, and this year's proposal on measures to stop providing export credit support for "non productive" expenditure in developing countries, G8 Labour Ministers should insist on the need to ensure that export credit support be conditioned on respect for core labour standards by host countries, along with proven implementation by recipient enterprises of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

11. The international trade union movement has stated clearly its position on the need to increase financial flows to developing countries through debt relief and development assistance. The G8 and OECD countries must reaffirm their commitment to the poverty alleviation and qualitative development goals they set out in 1996, especially the aim of halving world poverty by 2015. The recent slight upturn in ODA must be further expanded. The new OECD-DAC poverty reduction guidelines must be built upon the platform of respect for workers' rights. The commitment by some countries to cancel official debt for the poorest countries must now be followed by all OECD countries and the process must be accelerated to provide far-reaching debt relief in the shortest possible time. The international financial institutions should likewise write off debts to the poorest, and be allowed to raise adequate finance to do so. The resources freed up by debt relief must be used to promote poverty eradication specifically through investment in basic health and education. Beneficiaries must be obliged to observe labour and other human rights as a condition for debt relief. 

12. A central part of the "social dimension" of globalisation must be the effective regulation of the global activities of multinational enterprises to ensure that they observe both core labour rights of their employees and also contribute to the "high route" to economic development. The newly revised OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises have the potential to contribute to the realisation of this goal. To achieve this, Labour Ministers must play their part to ensure that governments and the OECD set up rapidly transparent and effective implementation mechanisms, in co-operation with trade unions. It is of concern that to-date no G8 country has an effectively functioning National Contact Point for the Guidelines. An adequately resourced outreach programme must also be put in place to develop the Guidelines’ implementation beyond the OECD area.

Ageing Populations

13. Industrial countries must ensure that they maintain and improve social cohesion, living standards and economic dynamism against the background of ageing populations and demographic change. An ageing population will also give rise to increased demand for some services and hence jobs. The whole-scale replacement of public pension schemes by private schemes or capitalised schemes, is not an acceptable response to the increasing costs of pension systems due to ageing of societies. Actuarial pressures will simply be transferred from the state to financial markets with associated risks as seen in the Asian financial crisis. Nor is a cutback of pension benefits an acceptable response. Some OECD countries have already undertaken far-reaching steps to stabilise the financing of national pension schemes. These efforts to avoid increasing contributions to pension schemes and funds combine a broad variety of practical reform measures. They include efforts to broaden the basis of pension contributions and the shift to "multiple pillar" systems, and the reversal of the trend towards less time in work and more time in retirement. The debate as well as the practical measures indicate that there is no single best solution. Indeed those countries that have reduced public costs in many cases have continuing problems of inequality and old age poverty. Both, the growing importance of multiple pillar-systems and the great diversity of changed or new arrangements indicate that the often advocated shift towards (mandatory) advance-funding systems instead of pay-as-you-go-systems represents a false debate. Strong public systems are more effective in providing wide coverage and portability of pensions, they have lower administrative costs and are more equitable.

14. The key to resolving demographic change is through increasing activity rates by reducing unemployment amongst the population of working age as a whole and in particular in the population over 50. Trade unions support developing a smooth path for a flexible transition from work to retirement. Retirement should be a decision based on individual choice rather than economic compulsion. The trend to early retirement is often a "second best" response to unemployment and company restructuring. In addition to reducing unemployment trade unions are prepared to play a major role in joint efforts to re-harness the extensive experience of older workers and reduce discrimination against them. Work organisation and workplace design must take account of the needs of older workers. Efforts must also be made to reduce the causes of work-related stress and ill health. This requires not only that possibilities for retraining and "lifelong learning" also are made available to older workers but also that the extension of working life is a voluntary decision by employees. OECD Member governments must reflect this in their own public sector employment practices.


(1)   This statement has been prepared by the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC) in co-operation with our partner organisations, notably the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the World Confederation of Labour (WCL) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).
 


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