ILO Newsroom – February 14, 2013

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Jobs, social inclusion and growth should top EU agenda

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder discusses the priorities of the European Union in the context of his first official visit to Ireland, whilch holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU.

Comment / 14 February 2013

I am often asked whether the levels of unemployment in southern Europe threaten social stability. They most certainly do.

On the surface, the Eurozone may appear to have regained some stability but the real economy is still in troubled waters.

European Commission President, José Manuel Durão Barroso, was not exaggerating when he recently warned that some parts of Europe are experiencing “a real social emergency.”   We must act before simmering discontent boils up into episodes of tension and revolt that would impact the entire region.

How do we go about this? For a start, we must change our priorities. Jobs, social inclusion and sustainable growth must be at the heart of EU and global action.

The IMF has recognised that the austerity medication was more potent than it first thought. The right lesson to draw is that the dosage must be reduced. And key social programmes, such as those targeting unemployed youth, should be protected from budgetary cuts.

Smart social policies – such as programmes that help the unemployed find jobs or systems that provide social security to vulnerable members of our society – cannot just be considered a cost. They are an investment in our future.

We must not be lulled into the notion that the crisis is over, that no further action is required. For the people in the jobs queue, the crisis is very much with us and the queue is getting longer.

The ILO’s Global Emplloyment Trends 2013 shows that over 200 million people around the world will be unemplooyed this year, with this level expected to continue rising.  In addition, almost 40 million have given p all hope of getting a job and dropped out of the labour market.

Young people are particularly hard hit. In the Eurozone as a whole, youth unemployment tops 22 per cent, reaching more than 50 per cent in countries like Greece and Spain.

In Ireland, people are paying a high price for cleaning up the devastating consequences of irresponsible practices in the financial sector. Finding a fair and equitable solution to the sovereign debt issue which lifts the burden from the shoulders of workers, businesses and taxpayers is a priority if Ireland and other countries affected by sovereign debt are to get back to growth and job creation.

The EU must bring real substance to the social dimension, including social dialogue, as announced in the roadmap for completing the European economic and monetary union. It should help member states implement youth guarantee schemes, improve industrial diversification and innovation, boost effectiveness of labour market services, increase job creation and strengthen social investment.

The Irish EU Council Presidency has made it clear it is moving in that direction, announcing that jobs and growth will be high on its agenda. That is good news.  At the same time, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, László Andor, has called for a monetary union with a human face, and is set to announce a social investment package later this month. Social dialogue is a major asset for the European Union. Unfortunately the collective bargaining systems that are the foundation for social dialogue have been weakened in several EU countries, which will make it all the more difficult for wages to stay in line with productivity.

The fact that Ireland holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU at this critical time presents an important opportunity to reassert the values of the social dialogue that played a key role in the recovery and growth of the Irish economy in the 1980s and 1990s.

Seizing this opportunity would be consonant with the extraordinary contribution of Edward Phelan, one of my predecessors – an Irishman who dedicated his life to social justice. Phelan was the architect of the tripartite formula bringing together Governments, Workers and Employers, which has underpinned the principles and values of the ILO for almost a century.

When people have no jobs, there is less security. Add to this the growing income and social inequalities within and across countries, and what we have is a recipe for economic, political and social instability.

This can and should be avoided.

The time to act is now. 

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