G20 Summit: a “missed opportunity,” say unions


The G20 Summit held in Brisbane, Australia over the weekend has been described as a “missed opportunity”, with unions lamenting that world leaders failed to deliver a concrete plan for a jobs and wages-led global economic recovery.

As the annual summit of world leaders ended on Sunday, unions were already looking ahead to 2015 – when the baton of the G20 presidency will be passed to Turkey – as the next chance to convince the world’s 20 richest nations to take a different path.

Unions said the G20 had continued to be captive to a corporate agenda of trickle-down economics that has left the world’s workers out of the picture.

The Australian-led G20 did commit to an aspiration of economic growth of 2.1 per cent above the current trajectory, but it was how it would get there that most concerns unions.

Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), said there were gaps in the G20 agenda and the path forward was based on flawed economic modelling that assumed full employment.

But with more than 200 million people out of work around the world – 30 million more than at the start of the financial crisis – that was clearly not the case in the real economy, she said.

The Labour 20’s own modelling had found that a co-ordinated mix of wages and investment policies in the G20 countries could create 33 million new jobs and drive economic growth of almost six per cent above current trends.

“We have no confidence that on current economic modelling the two per cent growth target can be achieved,” said Burrow.

“With the huge unemployment crisis, and no plans to address [the] demand needed to stimulate the global economy, the G20 will be back next year with higher unemployment and more fractured societies.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared the summit a success, but behind-the-scenes he had been rebuffed by some of the world’s most powerful leaders, including US President Barack Obama, over his attempt to keep climate change out of the G20 discussions.

In his closing press conference, Prime Minister Abbott trumpeted the achievement of an agreement on the growth target.

He said the G20 had delivered “real, practical outcomes” and as a result “people right around the world are going to be better off”.

The L20 said its assessment of the final leaders’ communiqué showed that inequality and inclusive growth were left aside in favour of business interests being put ahead of those of working people.

The L20 was concerned all the talk at the Summit about jobs did not necessarily equate to decent work with good wages and conditions.


Wins and losses

There were some wins: the G20 leaders pledged to increase women’s workforce participation by 25 per cent by 2025 and to encourage more investment in infrastructure through the creation of an “infrastructure hub”.

There was also renewed commitment to crackdown on corporate tax evasion through profit shifting to tax havens like Luxembourg.

The G20 committed together to pour more resources and support to combat west Africa’s Ebola outbreak.

And climate change made the final communiqué at the last moment – despite the Abbott government’s futile attempts to ignore it – following the game-changing deal by the United States and China last week to reduce their carbon emissions by up to 28 per cent by 2025.

US President Barack Obama’s speech at the University of Queensland on Saturday, where he pledged US$3 billion to the Green Climate Fund and urged young people to take up the fight for real action on climate change, was one of the big talking points of the Summit.

But unions ended the summit frustrated that they had been unable to communicate their message that the world needs a pay rise directly to the G20 leaders as a group.

While the L20 group was able to hold some meetings with individual national leaders including Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel, Burrow said the Abbott government had locked them out of a genuine dialogue with the G20 leaders.

Unions were angry after Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey delivered a tightly scripted message about the need to cut regulation and support business rather than engage on workers’ issues when he addressed the L20 Summit on Friday.

“You can’t build an economy on sand,” said Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the UK’s Trades Union Congress (TUC).

“If you’re only listening to hedge-fund managers and big business chiefs, then you’re only going to get one side of the story.”

On the sidelines of the summit, Australian unions admitted to being embarrassed by Prime Minister Abbott’s parochial opening address to the G20 leaders, in which he had lashed out over his failure to get a medical visit co-payment and higher university fees through parliament.

“Sadly, the Abbott government dropped the ball when it had the chance to provide mature leadership to the G20 on climate change and inequality and instead used this forum as a soapbox to advocate domestic policies that are driving down living standards in Australia,” said O’Grady.


A longer version of this article originally appear on Working Life.