Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Trade Unions urge World Bank and IMF to take action against unemployment

An 80-strong high-level delegation of trade union representations from around the world is meeting with the International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn and World Bank President Robert Zoellick, as well as Board members and several other officials of the two bodies, this week in Washington to push for further immediate anti-recession measures and effective global regulation to ensure future global economic stability. The delegation is led by ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) President Sharan Burrow and General Secretary Guy Ryder. Top of the list of union concerns is the spectre of spiralling global unemployment, as more and more employers cut staffing in the face of the credit squeeze.

"Action by governments and the international financial institutions to support decent jobs is essential in the face of the expected world-wide employment crisis, and will lay the foundation for economic recovery. While the IMF has been encouraging industrialised countries to adopt vigorous fiscal stimulus polices, which we believe it is correct in doing, it has been putting forward a much more traditional 'fiscal discipline' approach in its advice to most developing countries. Developing and transition economies are now rapidly beginning to suffer from the global economic crisis and the IMF and the World Bank should jettison failed policies of the past and focus their efforts on maintaining and creating employment, both to deal with the present crisis and to lay the foundations for economic recovery," said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder.

The IMF has agreed to emergency loans to several countries particularly affected by the economic crisis. While the conditionality of these loans is not as complex and onerous as that imposed during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, ITUC affiliates are concerned by the some of the conditions or required "prior actions" that feature in many of these, such as interest rate and utility price hikes, restrictions and even reductions in wages, particularly in the public sector, and reductions of pension payments other public spending cuts. All of these will dampen the level of activity of economies already in recession and lead to a reduction in workers' living standards, and are inconsistent with the fiscal stimulus polices the IMF is encouraging rich countries to adopt. The ITUC is particularly concerned with the some conditions of a loan agreement that the IMF just concluded with the authoritarian government of Belarus. In exchange for a $2.46bn emergency loan, the government of Belarus, which has been condemned by the ILO for violating fundamental workers' rights, has promised to apply wage restraint throughout the broad public sector, increase utility prices and pursue privatization. Belarus is also required to reform its the social safety net and focus assistance on "the most vulnerable groups", which could result in reduced social protection for many workers since they cannot express and defend themselves freely due to repression of trade unions carried out by the Lukashenko regime.

The union delegation is putting forward a comprehensive and practical recovery and reform package, based on the "Washington Declaration" presented to the November G20 leaders meeting in Washington. The package stresses that governments need to be prepared to ensure further coordinated cuts in interest rates and to front-load investment in infrastructure, education and health to help stimulate demand growth and reinforce public services. This needs to be accompanied by tax and spending measures to support the purchasing power of low- and middle-income earners, and concrete steps to launch investment in green goods and services, to help address climate change.

Noting that the IMF was called upon by the G20 to assume a major role in designing a new regulatory framework for the global financial system, the international trade union delegation will insist that they must have a seat at the table in a re-regulation process that puts the real economy, not the interests of global financial speculators, as the central priority. The union delegation is also urging the World Bank to help contribute to avoiding a repetition of the catastrophic impact of the recent food price crisis on poor countries' populations by going beyond providing emergency relief loans and helping developing countries increase their food security. In so doing, both IFIs must reverse some of the policies they encouraged poor countries to adopt in the past, such as the reduction of state aid to agriculture through low-cost seeds and fertilizer, the dismantling of public grain stocks, and the shift from food to bio-fuel production.

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