G20 Employment Ministers' meeting in China. Photo: ITUC
G20 China: The diagnosis is in, but not the prescription
Its hot and smoggy here in Beijing Beijing, where G20 Labour and Employment Ministers have been meeting this week, but that’s not the main source of my frustration.
Instead, I’m having a hard time getting my head around what Guy Ryder, head of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), described in today’s L20 trade union meeting as the ‘cognitive political dissonance’ that exists in the minds of many G20 politicians and policymakers.
There is a virtual consensus amongst politicians and international bodies, such as the OECD, that the current economic model is failing. Rising inequality, stagnating growth, fragile markets, persistently high levels of youth unemployment – the symptoms are are easy to spot. But while the world’s policymakers have got their diagnosis broadly right, they are proving painfully slow in actually prescribing the policy medicine to to revive the global economy.
As Sharon Burrow of the ITUC said today, in response to the statement issued by G20 employment ministers:
“With the combination of austerity and a global model of trade that impoverishes working families in too many nations, business-as-usual policies by governments won’t work. International institutions including the OECD agree that wages need to rise….However, the Beijing meeting was a missed opportunity to deliver practical policies to meet G20 commitments agreed in 2015 to address ‘labour income share and inequalities’.”
That’s not to say the employment ministers’ statement was a bad one. It stressed – once again – the need to realign wages and productivity growth, to strengthen compliance with and coverage of minimum wages, and to promote collective bargaining. It recognised the vital role of of social dialogue and the need for inclusive growth. But what was really missing, was a clear sense of how G20 governments would actually deliver all these valid aspirations.
Perhaps nowhere is this ‘cognitive political dissonance’ more evident that in the UK. While our government has joined other G20 countries in recognising the vital role of collective bargaining, in practice it has spent much of the last year doing all it can to undermine unions and collective bargaining with its Trade Union Act. Likewise, its support for ‘social dialogue’ seems restricted to warm words in G20 communiques rather than practical action at home.
Next year’s G20, which will be chaired by the German government, will hopefully help close the gap between political rhetoric and action, and focus on delivering the commitments that G20 employment ministers have made here in Beijing. In the meantime the TUC will be doing all it can to support unions organising and bargaining for a fair deal at work, and also challenging the new UK Prime Minister to live up to the commitments her government has signed up to at the G20.