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Trade unions urge G20 action on jobs

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I am attending the G20 labour ministers meeting next week, which is being held against the background of high unemployment in the advanced economies, and the prospect -- highlighted by the IMF yesterday -- for unemployment to increase even further in the months ahead.

A key union demand -- that the G20 establish an ongoing working group on employment and social protection -- is apparently being resisted by Canada, which wants to restrict the mandate of such a group to youth unemployment and, perhaps, long-term unemployment. Currently, labour ministers meet before full G20 meetings on an ad hoc basis, and there is no institutional machinery to promote labour market and social protection co-operation analogous to the mandates given to the IMF and financial regulators.

The following summary is from the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD. The full trade union statement can be found here.

A full-scale jobs emergency confronts the G20 with 110 million jobs needed by 2015 just to return to the pre-crisis employment rate.

Fiscal consolidation policies have set back growth and recovery, forcing millions of people into poverty and unemployment.

TUAC General Secretary John Evans said that plans to encourage employment by G20 Labour and Employment Ministers will fail unless there is a co-ordinated approach with Finance Ministers and G20 Leaders.

"After prematurely moving away from supporting growth to deficit reduction, G20 governments must now muster the same level of collective political will used to bail out the banks. They need to launch a co-ordinated recovery effort to secure jobs for teachers, nurses, construction workers and other crucial sectors of the economy. Given the scale of the jobs emergency, Labour Ministers must raise their level of ambition in the G20," said Evans.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said tackling income inequality is fundamental to recovery, and called on the G20 Labour and Employment Ministers to put in place policies to strengthen collective bargaining.

"Big business is using the economic crisis as a smokescreen to push down wages. Collective bargaining rights are the most effective antidote to greed and will foster growth. Workers know first-hand why it's important to have a decent wage, and a strong and vibrant business," said Burrow.

The financial crisis pushed over 80 million more people into extreme poverty, and many are left without a safety net. G20 Labour and Employment Ministers have a moral and economic responsibility to strengthen social protection systems in all G20 countries.

"A Social Protection Floor offers a life line for half the world's workforce that is trapped in informal work activities, including the majority of women workers. Countries with well- developed social protection systems weather economic crises much better than those without, and help maintain the confidence of workers and their employers in a climate of uncertainty," explained Burrow.

Labour and Employment Ministers are meeting for the last time before the Finance Ministers in October and the Leaders meeting in November which will conclude France's Presidency of the G20 for 2011.

This article was first posted on The Progressive Economics Forum.

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