No decent work without decent wages


The labour and employment ministers of the G20 countries met in Melbourne last week (such meetings are now so much a part of the G20 architecture they have their own acronym, LEMM).


As I reported beforehand, unions were pressing for an agreement that the world needs a pay rise to deliver more social justice and equality, and also to boost growth.

Ministers like Britain’s Esther McVey wouldn’t go that far, but what she did agree to is remarkable nonetheless: the need for quality – rather than any – jobs; the need to move people from informal to formal work; the need for stronger health and safety standards…

There isn’t enough in terms of specifics in the LEMM’s conclusions, and it doesn’t go far enough on wages, but it does provide a platform for pressure leading up to the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Brisbane in November where Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Secretary Frances O’Grady will be part of a global union team demanding that UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the other 19 leaders sign up to a pay rise for the world.

The main conclusion of the LEMM – highlighted by right-wing host employment minister, Australia’s Eric Abetz in the post-summit press conference – was that jobless growth was unacceptable, and jobs need to be quality jobs, as set out in the International Labour Organisation (ILO)/Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)/World Bank submission to the meeting:

“There is one factor on which we are all agreed, and that is when we have economic growth—and the Finance Ministers have set themselves a target of two percent economic growth above trajectory—that with that, there needs to be jobs growth, and rich jobs growth with meaningful jobs. So, in the past we have regrettably seen in some economies, economic growth without jobs growth, and if we want the social dividend from economic growth, it is vitally important that economic growth be in lock step with jobs growth.”

The full statement contains a lot of important and welcome commitments, albeit general rather than specific.

The second paragraph states clearly that “there is a continuing need to generate hundreds of millions of decent jobs that can lift working families out of poverty and drive sustainable development.” And paragraphs 4 and 5 are worth quoting in full (my emphasis):

“4. Promoting and creating quality jobs, and tackling the economic and social consequences of unemployment, underemployment, inequality and social exclusion, are priorities for all our economies. Reducing youth unemployment, stimulating demand, and raising female participation and employment, in particular, command a high priority. We must also invest in preventing unemployment from becoming structural by creating better jobs, providing training to meet the skills needs of tomorrow, improving job matching and boosting labour market participation.

“5. Supporting people to gain and maintain quality employment – underpinned by fair and accessible social protection – is the best strategy for assisting under-represented and vulnerable groups, as part of a broader social contract consistent with the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. We also recognise the important role of social dialogue when developing our labour and employment policies.”

The reference to the ILO is revealing: the LEMM’s conclusions have its pawprints all over them, and ILO Director-General Guy Ryder was quick to welcome them.

In particular there is support for formalising employment (subject of a committee at this and next year’s ILO conference aimed at producing a legal instrument); a commitment to “promoting safer workplaces” which is subject to an Annex all of its own that would make the deregulators choke; and persistent references to the role of the social partners and social dialogue are all but support for collective bargaining and tripartism.

The concluding statement says:

“We take a strong stand against forced and child labour, and encourage the implementation of applicable international labour standards by governments and social partners. We will explore the scope for further work on this issue.”

On wages, Abetz was specifically asked at the press conference why the L20 submission on wages – modelling that showed a wage rise across the G20 group would create growth – was not reflected in the text. He responded that “there will always be differing views, differing studies, different considerations.”

But Annex A to the statement does include an agreement (again, my emphasis) to:

“Improve national wage-setting systems and bargaining arrangements, establish minimum wages and reduce the non-wage costs of labour, where appropriate, and achieve a more sustainable alignment between employment, wages and productivity.”

At the G20 Leaders’ Summit in November, we’ll be pressing for the leaders to formally endorse the conclusions of their employment ministers to ensure they don’t get lost or overturned, and to put some specific targets on the general commitments made.

And in particular, less than a month after the TUC’s national demonstration, we’ll be arguing that the world’s workers need a pay rise.


This article was initially published on ToUChstone.