G20 Labour and Employment Ministers’ Report Card — Big on Commitments, Short on Action

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Sharan Burrow ITUC General Secretary hands over L20 statement to Argentina Secretary of Labor and Employment Jorge Alberto Triaca Jr. Photo credit G20 Argentina

The G20 Labour and Employment Ministers, meeting in Mendoza, Argentina, (6–7 September), agreed to a number of policy coordination measures, including on the future of work and the challenges of the digitalisation of the economy. Overall, a good set of commitments was agreed in the closing statement. Yet something was missing in Mendoza.

Ten years on since the first meeting of G20 leaders in Washington, D.C., at the onset of the global financial crisis, we still have a world where corporate and financial concentration, unemployment and precarious jobs, and persistently high inequality continue to constrain the engines of inclusive growth.

Trade unions were in Washington putting the impact of the crisis on workers on the table. It was the following year when the G20 met in London that an understanding was struck that social dialogue with unions and business should be part of the process to ensure a stable economy with decent work guaranteed. From those origins came Labour 20 and the Business 20 whose dialogue with G20 Labour and Employment Ministers continues to this day.

In OECD economies, the recovery in employment levels took place on the back of decent work and job quality. Corporate investments and wage growth are far too weak to support the hope of robust growth. In emerging economies, we can fear a repeat of the financial crisis of the late 1990s. South Africa has entered a recession and Indonesia joined Turkey and Argentina in tumbling toward record lows, reinforcing concern that contagion risks are too big to ignore.

Multilateralism is in crisis. While international institutions champion slightly improved global growth, they fail to drive the urgency that signals and addresses the impact of multiple risks concerning the health of the real economy for workers and employers. Social risks have not abated — historical levels of inequality persist, minimum wages are not adequate to cover basic needs in almost all countries and collective bargaining, which ensures shared prosperity and economic health, is in decline.

The world is three times richer than twenty years ago, yet the majority of the world’s people are living on the edge, and job quality and human and labour rights are deteriorating. Environmental risks continue to spread each day; we are facing “hothouse earth”, yet there is some sort of collective blindness or denial driving us to a world that is simply uninsurable — there are no jobs on a dead planet but there is no business either.

The original mandate for the G20 was to bring our economies back on a robust and inclusive growth path through coordination of economic policies while addressing the future global challenges through international cooperation. In Mendoza, the G20 Labour and Employment Ministers agreed to a package of measures that, if collectively implemented, would help anticipate a number of future employment challenges — social protection, skills, inclusion of women, youth, and people with disability, as well as tackling informality.

But they must do a better job at the primary mandate of the G20 of delivering robust and inclusive growth and take coordinated actions, including with their finance counterparts in the G20 Finance Ministers, to help lift wages.

In 2015, G20 Labour Ministers committed to effectively address the fall of labour income shares and the rise of inequalities which are manifested across G20 economies. That mandate has not been implemented and is even more critical today for achieving inclusive growth.

Action and urgency were missing in Mendoza. G20 Leaders meeting at the end of the year in Argentina should be put on notice to take co-ordinated action putting global growth with decent jobs and wages on the agenda.

Written by

General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. Representing the world's working people.

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