Monday, 31 October 2011

World of Work Report 2011: ILO warns of a new and deeper jobs recession

In a grim analysis issued on the eve of the G20 leaders summit, the International Labour Organization (ILO) says the global economy is on the verge of a new and deeper jobs recession that will further delay the global economic recovery and may ignite more social unrest in scores of countries. The new World of Work Report 2011: Making markets work for jobs says a stalled global economic recovery has begun to dramatically affect labour markets. On current trends, it will take at least five years to return employment in advanced economies to pre-crisis levels, one year later than projected in last year’s report.

Noting that the current labour market is already within the confines of the usual six-month lag between an economic slowdown and its impact on employment, the report indicates that 80 million jobs need to be created over the next two years to return to pre-crisis employment rates. However, the recent slowdown in growth suggests that the world economy is likely to create only half of the jobs needed.

The report also features a new “social unrest” index that shows levels of discontent over the lack of jobs and anger over perceptions that the burden of the crisis is not being shared fairly. It notes that in over 45 of the 118 countries examined, the risk of social unrest is rising. This is especially the case in advanced economies, notably the EU, the Arab region and to a lesser extent Asia. By contrast, there is a stagnant or lower risk of social unrest in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

The study shows that nearly two-thirds of advanced economies and half of emerging and developing economies with recent available data are once again experiencing a slowdown in employment. This comes on top of an already precarious employment situation in which global unemployment is at its highest point ever, surpassing 200 million worldwide.

The report cites three reasons why the ongoing economic slowdown may have a particularly strong impact on the employment panorama: first, compared to the start of the crisis, enterprises are now in a weaker position to retain workers; second, as pressure to adopt fiscal austerity measures mount, governments are less inclined to maintain or adopt new job- and income-support programmes; and third, countries are left to act in isolation due to lack of international policy coordination.

G20 leaders must put people before bankers

G20 leaders must meet the demands of working people at the G20 summit in Cannes on 3-4 November 2011 and deliver on their promises to reform the financial sector. As the economic and financial crisis enters its most dangerous phase so far, G20 leaders must deliver a co-ordinated response which puts people before bankers, warns the international trade union movement. Meeting alongside the G20, the ‘Labour 20’ Summit in Cannes will bring together elected trade union leaders from G20 countries for crisis talks on the economy and on attacks on labour rights.

International Trade Union Confederation General Secretary Sharan Burrow said unemployment is the largest single threat to recovery and has reached record levels with over 200 million people out of work and many more working in insecure jobs. Meanwhile, the financial system continues to be bailed out by governments who fail to take the necessary action to reform their destabilising and highly risky lending practices. “Public pressure for governments to act in the interests of people and not the bankers will grow and grow. People are angry. The international trade union movement will be in Cannes to demand action and reform to respond to that justified anger,” said Burrow.

Global Unions are calling on G20 leaders to adopt a four-point plan for jobs and recovery that stems the jobs crisis and re-shapes the world economy for working people:

* Establish a co-ordinated jobs target and immediate measures of job-intensive infrastructure programmes, green jobs investment and labour market programmes to raise skills;
* Reduce income inequality and strengthen workers’ rights;
* Put in place a social protection floor;
* Reform the financial sector and establish a financial transactions tax.

The proposals for recovery plans from the L20 will be delivered to G20 host President Nicolas Sarkozy and to other G20 Heads of State and Government, and must be taken into account in the final G20 conclusions. The statement of global unions to the G20 is >>> here.

Friday, 21 October 2011

No land investments without consent of local communities, CIDSE says

This week, the UN Committee on Food Security (CFS) held its 37th session in Rome, which looked at food price volatility, gender, food security and nutrition and agricultural investment. The session was meant to open with the adoption of new voluntary guidelines on land tenure, but governments were unable to finalise negotiations. The international alliance of Catholic development agencies CIDSE welcomes the efforts put into the talks so far, while urging governments to finalise negotiations as soon as possible and move towards putting the guidelines in practice. The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests are meant to protect land tenure of small scale food producers, urgently needed in view of land grabbing which has dramatically increased in recent years.

CIDSE and other civil society organisations who participated in the negotiations in Rome highlight the progress made. Nearly three quarters of the text of the Voluntary Guidelines were successfully negotiated, including critical issues such as the recognition and protection of customary tenure, the tenure of forests and fisheries and the protection of rights defenders responding to the critical issue of their criminalisation. Several controversial issues, such as those relating to investments in agriculture remain open, however. According to CIDSE, “The land belongs to those who work it. Acknowledging the right of small farmers and local communities to cultivate their own land is an important step towards food security, as their right to food should always have priority over land investments.”

The issue of land governance is of growing importance. As much as 227 million hectares of land in developing countries (about the size of Western Europe) has been sold or leased since 2001. The bulk of these have taken place in the last 2 years, an overwhelming majority in Africa. The increase in land grabbing is linked to the 2007-2008 food price crisis which has triggered the interest of investors and governments in agriculture because of its profit making potential. The demand for food, timber, carbon sequestration and mineral exploration, as well as agro-fuels directives in developed countries, are key drivers of land grabbing. Investors include national elites, foreign companies and international governments, including oil rich states and China looking to secure food for their populations.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

New CAP proposals exclude development obligations

The European Commission presented a draft proposal for a new Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) on 10 October for the period after 2013. The main aims of the draft are “to strengthen the competitiveness, sustainability and permanence of agriculture throughout the EU”, reads an official EU press release. Ten key points are stressed in this respect, including better targeting of income support, developing crisis management tools, greening agricultural production, stimulating rural employment and channelling additional funding towards research and innovation.

However, the Commission proposal does not mention Policy Coherence for Development (PCD). “Until now in the debates on the reform process, all EU institutions have made reference to take into account the principle that the CAP must seek to reduce its overseas impact through greater Policy Coherence for Development. Yet the Commission has not translated this into concrete measures in its proposals”, comments Oliver Consolo, Director of the Concord network.

Moreover, in a public hearing of the EP Development Committee (DEVE) taking place before the publication of the proposal, Agriculture Commissioner Dacian CioloĊŸ maintained that food security is a global concern that needs to be taken into account in all policies. However, “the widespread support from the European Parliament (EP) to include global responsibility for food security in the CAP reform to improve the policies’ impact on developing countries and the world’s poor has been ignored”, reads the Concord press release.

Calling on the EP and the Council to design a CAP mechanism that complies with the Lisbon Treaty provision of PCD, the European Development NGOs outlined a series of recommendations for this purpose, mainly for the creation of grievance and monitoring mechanisms. Farmer organisation in developing countries should be granted a space to be heard and even an EU Ombudsman for PCD should be instituted. In addition, a CAP Impact Monitoring System should “include an indicator specific to the objectives of monitoring the consistency between the CAP and its development and trade policies”, proposes Concord. In addition, unfair trading practices such as export subsidies should be phased out, yet the new reform proposal mentions no commitment to completely stop this practice.

The present draft opens the ordinary legislative proposal in which the three institutions — Commission, Council and European Parliament — will decide on the future of the European Common Agricultural Policy after 2013.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

IMF-inspired labour laws in Romania: Hardship for workers

Major changes in Romania’s labour laws, introduced at the behest of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank, have stripped away key protections for the country’s workforce and are denying large numbers of workers the right to union representation. More people are now forced to take a second job to make ends meet as labour market conditions become more precarious and incomes stagnate. According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the IMF prescription in Romania contradicts the positive signals about workers’ rights from its Washington Headquarters. The government has ignored the advice of the ILO despite promising to respect international labour standards.

“A small number of employers and foreign investors are getting the benefits of the government’s lack of concern for the men and women who produce the goods and provide the services that keep the economy running,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. The new laws, which the Romania’s trade union movement are trying to have amended, exclude workers in the “liberal professions” from the right to union membership, and introduced a series of legal and procedural obstacles to remove workers’ collective bargaining rights. Government claims that the laws have reduced unemployment are not supported by its own statistics.

“Powerful corporate and financial interests are succeeding in turning back two decades of democratic progress for Romania’s workers. These laws are a threat to the country’s economic and social stability, yet the government is putting ideology ahead of the interests of its own citizens,” said Burrow.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Agenda for Change: In whose interest?

The European Commission is seeking to attach more conditions to development aid and restrict it to fewer recipients. This is the message that is set out in the Commission Communication entitled ‘Agenda for Change’ adopted on 13 October. The most prominent innovation is the concept of ‘differentiated partnerships’ by which different countries will be eligible for different forms of assistance mechanisms. The Agenda emphasizes good governance as a more important prerequisite for development assistance and also focuses on the concept of inclusive growth — with development effects reaching those most in need.

This however seems to be counter to the goal included in the Age for Change of reducing the recipient countries. Middle-income countries where a large segment of the population lives below the poverty line would no longer be recipients of development aid. “Unfortunately the most important change in Piebalgs’ new agenda is that aid to the world’s poorest is being cut, diverting funds towards energy and private sector investments which are in the interest of the EU only, not the developing world,” says Concord Director, Olivier Consolo. Concord also highlights that poverty has not disappeared from countries now classified as middle income and these poor should not face reductions because of these categorizations.

Head of Oxfam International’s EU Office, Natalia Alonso, similarly points towards the negative implications this will have on the poor living in middle-income countries. Moreover, she calls attention to the limits of the private sector in its role in development. “We cannot sit on our hands and assume that the benefits of the private sector will simply trickle down and reach those most in need”, says Alonso. Concord also mentions that although the private sector can be beneficial for development, Official Development Assistance (ODA) should not be used “to guarantee private sector risk or to substitute public services.”

The Agenda for Change is accompanied by a paper on budget support outlining some of the implications it has on this modality of aid delivery. Oxfam International’s EU Office welcomes the EU determination to continue to use this system for poverty reduction objectives, but also warns against a politicization of aid that can result from more requirements. “We are surprised that the Commission suggests attaching more political conditions to recipient countries. Budget support must remain a poverty-reduction tool – not a political one”, stresses Natalia Alonso.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Actions in 70 countries to mark World Day for Decent Work

With unprecedented public demand for decent jobs, and pressure mounting on banks and the finance industry, the 2011 World Day for Decent Work today features over 400 actions across more than 70 countries, according to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). More than 200 million people worldwide are unemployed according to official figures, and hundreds of millions more lack decent, secure jobs. “People’s rights at work are under attack as never before, and governments lack the vision and commitment to fix a global economy which is failing working people,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

Actions on the World Day for Decent Work this year aim at tackling “precarious work” – the deepening trend towards casual, temporary and insecure jobs, often with little legal protection. Young people and women in the workforce are most likely to be affected, with their incomes and earning potential suffering as a result. Decent work – rights at work, job creation policies, social protection and social dialogue involving unions and employers – is seen crucial to turning the global economy around and generating the tax revenues for governments to tackle the fiscal situation.

“With the G20 leaders soon to meet in France, we are looking to them to take the steps needed and to stop following the failed policies which put the vested interests of banks and finance ahead of people’s lives and livelihoods,” said Burrow, who is addressing a special conference in Amsterdam today to mark the World Day. Today’s events include some 50 activities across Japan, with marches, conferences and youth meetings in several African countries and meetings and mobilisations throughout Russia and Ukraine. A series of activities in Latin America includes initiatives by trade unions in Peru and Chile to get official government recognition of the World Day for Decent Work.