Opening Address from Mr Gilbert Houngbo

(Delivered by Dan Cunniah, Senior Adviser)

Mr Chen Hao, Vice Chairman and First Secretary, ACFTU

Mr Jiang Guangping, Vice-chair and National Secretary, ACFTU, and Member of the ILO Governing Body,

Representatives of International, Regional and National Trade Union Organizations,


I am pleased to deliver this address on behalf of Mr Gilbert Houngbo, ILO Deputy Director- General for Field Operations and Partnerships, who had to leave very early this morning to attend another important meeting in Europe. I convey to you the greetings of the ILO Director-General, Mr Guy Ryder, who is currently in New York, attending the UN General Assembly.

I congratulate the ACFTU for providing an opportunity to trade union leaders from all quarters to discuss issues relating to economic globalization and the challenges it poses for the trade unions. As Stiglitz (2003) has expressed it, although globalization did not often produce the promised benefits, the issue is not whether globalization can be a force for good which benefits the poor of the world, but that globalization needs to be managed in the right way – and too often this has not been the case. As documented in a review of the literature on globalization by colleagues in the ILO a few years ago, most of the details regarding the size, implementation and financing of national and international policy to manage the process of globalization remain controversial. However, there seems an emerging consensus that governments need to invest in education and training, adopt core labour standards, provide and improve social protection, tackle rising national inequality, promote employment-intensive growth and provide space and opportunity to discuss globalization.

As trade unions, you are naturally more interested in the social dimension of globalization which relates to the impact of globalization on the life and work of people, their families, and their societies. Concern is often raised about the impact of globalization on employment, working conditions, income and social protection. This is understandable. Your concern is also the concern of the ILO, which developed, with tripartite consensus, some fifteen years ago the Decent Work Agenda which is still valid and relevant.

Decent work is a term which describes a set of conditions that all workers should be able to enjoy. Decent work involves: opportunities for full and productive work that delivers a fair income; health and safety in the workplace and social protection for families; freedom for people to organize themselves as workers and employers and to participate in the decisions that affect their lives; and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

It is acknowledged that the huge increase in economic activity taking place across the world has had an enormous impact on the lives of workers and communities everywhere. Living standards in some parts of the global south have risen significantly over the last few decades, lifting large numbers of people out of poverty, such as in China.

But this good news masks massive global inequalities. Thomas Piketty’s best-selling book - Capital in the Twenty-First Century - has also reawakened the debate on wealth and inequality.  Still, 839 million workers in developing countries earn less than US$ 2 a day and thus remain poor. More than half of the developing world workers (i.e. 1.5 billion people) are in vulnerable employment. Over the next five years, there will be an estimated 213 million new labour market entrants – 200 million in developing countries alone. Thus, we are facing a severe job crisis.

Targeting only an increase in economic growth is not enough. Governments should adopt growth policies which generate jobs, i.e. job-rich growth instead of jobless growth. The ILO has already developed a number of strategies and policies to promote employment creation. These are embodied in the Global Jobs Pact adopted at the ILO in June 2009 to address the economic and social impact of the crisis. It promotes a well-thought strategy, devised through a tripartite consensus and founded on evidence-based research and on international labour standards. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Our technical assistance is available to our constituents who ask for it. We have a duty and a responsibility to work with you and address the job crisis and tackle it.

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  Source: ACFTU  2014-09-25

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