I was at the opening session of the G20 employment ministers’ summit on Monday in Paris (before the social partners were kicked out and the governments got down to serious haggling!) But Ministers from around the world do seem to have got the message that trade unions were pitching at them. Their communique, which will be submitted to the G20 leaders in Cannes, puts jobs back at the centre of the global economic agenda, and they have established a task force on employment that will be a focal point for pressure on the issue as the French Presidency hands over to the Mexicans: even if it will be reviewed after a year, this is a step towards a permanent focus on jobs in the G20. That’s important because we’ve got the G20 to prioritise jobs before – in London under Gordon Brown – but without an institutional focus, the G20′s attention wandered.
Currently, there are 200 million people unemployed worldwide, as a background paper from the ILO for the summit revealed, and global unions are pressing the G20 governments to take urgent action to create at least 21 million jobs needed to restore employment levels to their pre-crisis state in the G20 alone (and probably 90 million more worldwide). Unions also pressed for action on what some have called “the crisis before the crisis”: the social inequality that forced millions of workers into debt to make up for falling or stagnant wage levels.
The jobs we need will not be created by reducing workers’ rights, as some – even in Europe – are arguing. The G20 Ministers’ communique was a welcome rebuttal to that argument, making rights for workers one of the four pillars of their agreement, along with job creation, a social protection floor and policy coherence. President Sarkozy announced on Monday that he would support observer status at the World Trade Organisation for the ILO. “Protection for the weakest must be an imperative,” the French president said, adding that G20 nations who also are members of the ILO should ratify the eight ILO conventions on fundamental rights that forbid child and forced labour, call for gender equality and include freedom to join unions and bargain collectively.
ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow commented on the communique yesterday, saying:
G20 Labour ministers have shown their Leaders the way to go. Now the Leaders must send the right instructions to their Finance Ministers, so that spending for jobs is increased while the G20 finally bring the financial markets under control as they promised to do when the crisis first broke three years ago. Complacency by G20 governments has meant no regulation of the financial sector and no action to meet the jobs crisis. We know that only workers will drive the world out of the crisis, not the bankers or the ratings agencies.