Is the G20 jobs train ready to leave the station?

By Sharan Burrow

 

Today, a group of government officials, meeting in a Moscow hotel, could set in motion  a plan for their G20 leaders that would create jobs and restore balance to a global economy wrecked by inequality.

The G20 Task Force on Employment has one of the most challenging jobs in a world where over 200 million people are unemployed (AP Photo/Paulo Duarte)

The soaring architecture of their hotel sits on a bend on the Moskva River, with commanding views across a city that has seen war, revolution and recovery.

The G20 Task Force on Employment has one of the most challenging jobs in a world where over 200 million people are unemployed, the highest ever recorded level.

An additional 5.3 million people are expected to lose their jobs this year.

And each year, 45 million young people find a job market with no vacancies for them.

Even these figures are a significant underestimate of the true depth of global unemployment.

Many millions of people seeking work, particularly women, are not registered. The informal economy is growing with the struggle to soak up unregistered individuals who have given up hope of secure, formal jobs.

In the Chair of the task force are the Russian and Australian governments. Unemployment in both countries is at a low of 5.4 per cent, but the hidden threats of underemployment, precarious work and the desperation of the informal economy are serious in both.

Task forces have long been used by governments to dispense advice on social ills ranging from crime and obesity to drugs.

Mandarins and experts on the G20 Task Force are challenged with breaking the vicious cycle of unemployment, which crosses generations and borders.

The cycle of jobless youth, uncertainty about the future, falling consumption, weak investment and stresses on both the supply and demand side of economies, are all thorns in the wheel of capitalism.

The task force is mandated to devise a plan for the governments of the world’s largest economies for holistic and coordinated action to create jobs.

Coordination is the increasingly forgotten but central tenet of G20 action.  In 2009 G20 countries committed themselves to a coordinated stimulus package.

Since then, the room for manoeuvring has diminished for a significant number of economies – hampered by structural reform policies in Europe, which continue to cost jobs and weaken demand.

While finance ministers have taken a shredder to government coffers or kept them under lock and key, the first joint meeting of G20 labour and finance ministers in July may help turn the tide and encourage finance ministers to invest in job recovery.

The advice from the G20 Task Force is critical for political leaders to commit to setting a jobs target to mirror growth targets.

 

Solutions

People in many countries are facing a social crisis that is as serious as the financial crisis. On the streets of Bulgaria, Greece, India, unrest over high prices and low wages are unsettling governments.

There are steps by which governments can fuel growth with jobs:

  • Investing in and facilitating investment in infrastructure, including shifting taxation to environmental negatives to promote environmentally sustainable growth: Millennium Institute research shows 48 million new jobs could be created with investment of just two per cent of GDP each year for five years in just ten countries.
  • Ensuring affordable credit for small to medium enterprises is a nation’s job engine: in the US alone there is an estimated two trillion US dollars in idle capital which could be unlocked for investment capital.
  • Minimum wages on which working people can live to arrest wage deflation and stabilise demand: the US and Germany are both set to look again at minimum wages. Even the IMF is coming around to its social and economic sense.
  • Strengthening collective bargaining to reduce the gap between productivity and profit and ensure working families have the capacity to shore up local business: a society where we can close the divides that have opened up in too many countries between young and old, rural and urban, insiders and outsiders, women and men.
  • A youth guarantee for work, and investing in scaling up quality apprenticeships and internships to include young people in the labour force and increase skills.
  • Targeting cash-transfers to low-income families, particularly where government subsidies are reduced for fossil fuels: the ITUC Global poll found one in seven are working poor – without enough money for basic essentials like housing, food and electricity.

These policy prescriptions have already been successful in different G20 economies.

The silver bullet to tackling global unemployment is coordinated action across our interdependent economies.

The G20 were able to act together to avoid financial free fall; now they need to act together to avoid a social collapse that comes from mass unemployment and weak safety nets.

In Australia, infrastructure investments have been a core part of the Australian economy. From mining infrastructure to the latest rollout of the National Broadband Network, nation-building projects have restored confidence and created jobs.

Brazil has the lowest unemployment ever along with high wages. In 2012, wages rose by 4.1 per cent thanks to a strong minimum wage. A strong economy in Brazil is people having jobs and young people engaged in education.

If each of the diverse, but advanced G20 economies could do the same, we would be one step further to creating decent jobs and growing economies.

Like Kremlinologists studying photos of Soviet parades to understand which leaders retained influence, we will all be reading between the lines of the task force statement, looking for clues that will fuel a jobs recovery.

 

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