Remarks to G20 Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting, Beijing China Social Partner Dialogue, 12 July 2016

Working families are caught in the low growth trap with their own jobs increasingly insecure and with a sense of hopelessness for a secure future for their sons and daughters. Up to 94% of workers in our global trading system of supply chains are a hidden workforce with 40% of the workforce trapped in the informal economy with no rights, no minimum wages and no social protection. And some 45 million are trapped in modern slavery.

Our recent polling in G20 countries shows the devastation of 52% of working families just getting by; 45% living on the edge struggling to pay for basic needs and 11% living in desperation with little hope of changing their daily struggle to survive. Women and young people and those with low skills are the most marginalised. When workers in Asia tell me that they worry every week if they can pay for their baby’s milk - a day’s wages in some countries, working families are in trouble and so is the global economy. And the real tragedy is that minimum living wages in this region would just take an increase of between 25 and 50 US dollars a month - a few cents on globally traded products.

And our tracking of G20 commitments shows that some 88% of respondents believe there is a vast gap between commitments and implementation and want governments to do more.

Trust in institutions is broken most recently evidenced by the vote on Brexit in the UK. This vote was based on a fear that drives people to isolationism which is not the answer. But the reality is that the rejection of the current model of trade and globalization will continue to gain strength if the distribution of the worlds prosperity is not more equal.

The L20 calls on G20 members to halt the slide in the global economy.

The policies of austerity have created more unemployment, further stagnation of wages and added to now massive inequality. Jobs, wages, social protection - we need stronger labour market institutions to create quality jobs and reduce income inequality. G20 growth actions plans must reinforce action on the issues of youth un- and underemployment, gender inequality, digital transformation, just transition towards jobs in a zero net carbon economy and the integration of refugees.

In 2015 Global Leaders took two historic decisions - the UN SDG’s (Agenda 2030) and the Paris Climate Agreement. Together they can chart a course to a zero carbon, zero poverty world but as Labour Ministers we need you to be at the forefront of realising the policies for business and workers to both drive this future and to benefit from it.

Because The “2% growth target above the trajectory implied by current policies over the coming five years” agreed by G20 leaders is way off track. 2016 is proving to be the most dangerous year economically since 2009. The latest OECD forecasts show that global GDP growth has stalled and they call for lifting wages.

Creating quality jobs and ensuring decent work must be the central priority of the G20 with concrete policy commitments and a coordinated follow-up. Structural reform policies that’s depress demand in the short term must be halted and superseded by a new agenda aiming at stronger and well-designed labour market institutions including trade unions and collective bargaining and the universal implementation of minimum living wages and social protection. The Labour and Employment Ministers set much of this agenda last year but now must send a strong message to the G20 Leaders Summit that achieving tangible policy results are the priority. For workers the agenda is clear.

  • Action for Comprehensive Growth and Quality Jobs with the priority for investment in infrastructure lifted into action
  • A new structural policy agenda that addresses in-work poverty, realises decent work with minimum living wages, collective bargaining and social protection and eliminates tax evasion.
  • Jobs for Youth with Quality Apprenticeships and Life-Long Learning. Implementation requires national social dialogue as a priority.
  • A dramatic rise in Women’s Participation with priority investment in the care economy - child care, aged care health and education to free women to work and realise a second jobs dividend in these essential public services.
  • To realise smart Innovation with employment protection and decent work in the digital economy. Technology is a tool and does not have to drive employment conditions of the last century; the choice is ours.
  • Translate the Climate Paris Agreement into investment and jobs and
  • Ensure that Strengthened Social Dialogue is embedded into policy and practice at national and global level

We also urge you to take note of the international B20/L2O agreement which speaks to priorities that business and Labour agree on as key actors in the real economy.

Let me acknowledge that the G20 in Turkey consolidated policy priorities that in combination lay the foundation for inclusive growth and shared prosperity. We expect that the Ministers will reaffirm these policies and build on them this year with a particular focus on implementation. This is even more urgent as 2016 is shaping up to be such a devastating year for markets and for working people.

Employers, unions, civil society, women and youth, through their G20 engagement groups in Antalya called for safe haven and the ’right to work’ for migrant and refugees. We urge you to revisit these matters for the sake of human rights and social cohesion but also to boost labour markets and stimulate growth.

And climate change cannot be ignored. There are simply no jobs on a dead planet and people and business are on the frontlines of the extreme weather events and changing seasons that tragically will drive even more displacement. We require just transition plans to support vulnerable workers and communities in every nation.

All of this requires strong social dialogue at every level. We thank the Chinese government for this engagement program but urge ministers to look to deepen it. A sustainable economy that acts to reduce inequality and realise a zero property zero carbon world will take all of us. People need hope and we need your leadership to help us rebuild trust.

Thank you.
Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation