Finding a way forward for Europe from Oslo



When he spoke at the opening of the 9th European Regional Meeting last Monday, workers’ spokesperson Luc Cortebeek did not mince his words.

“As we gather here in Oslo a sentiment of injustice is overflowing among workers, as we are made to pay for a crisis which was not of our making, while its root causes have yet to be addressed.”

A positive outcome of the meeting was not a given, in a region where one million people have lost their jobs in the last six months alone and where the foundation of the European Social Model has been heavily under attack.

And yet, the tripartite negotiations lasted long hours, but were able to lead to the Oslo Declaration, a lucid analysis of how the crisis in Europe has deepened over the last four years, in particular for young people unable to access quality jobs and older workers who are deprived of social protection.

From the disparaging reality, it is important though that ILO constituents were able to indicate a way forward: a mix among employment-friendly macroeconomic policies, adequate social protection systems, improved job quality while closing the gender wage gap, an enabling environment for enterprises based on the respect of rights at work and an effective social dialogue to lead to equitable distribution, social progress and stability.

In order for these options not to remain in the realm of “good intentions”, the ILO has called upon supporting governments and social partners in the implementation of fundamental labour standards and other relevant international labour standards.

It is evident that all labour standards are “relevant” in general, but here the focus is on the labour standards that the Global Jobs Pact in 2009 specifically identified as “relevant” in order to prevent a downward spiral in labour conditions and build recovery.

The report points out that: “In addition to the fundamental Conventions, ILO instruments concerning employment policy, wages, social security, the employment relationship, the termination of employment, labour administration and inspection, migrant workers, labour conditions on public contracts, occupational safety and health, working hours and social dialogue mechanisms.”

It is encouraging that the Workers’ Group has specifically decided to focus on ratification of some of these Conventions in the region, in particular Convention 158 on Termination of Employment, as well as using instruments that do not need ratification, such as Recommendation 198 on the Employment Relationship, as guidance to discourage governments from further flexibilisation of the labour market.

Two other important guiding principles were also traced. The second is the clear indication of the need to adopt decisions through “enhanced social dialogue, collective bargaining and effective social partnership”. Social Europe cannot be rebuilt without the active and recognised participation in the decision making of the Social Partners.

Finally, the idea that macroeconomic, labour market, employment and social protection issues cannot be addressed only at national level, but need “synergies and policy coherence” with international and regional organisations.

The European Commission has been called by ILO Director General Guy Ryder – together with the IMF, the World Bank and other relevant institutions – “to work closely together”.

Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Cyprus, Bulgaria, just to call a few countries, cannot wait any longer. The ILO stands ready to work with the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The Oslo consensus between governments, employers and workers needs to find its way to Brussels and beyond.