World leaders, ILO call for urgent reforms

GENEVA, Jun 17 (IPS) - A crisis summit organised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to halt millions of job losses across the world due to the global economic slowdown ended Wednesday with a ringing call by its host to act now and put 'the workers first before anything else.'

Closing the 3-day ILO Jobs Crisis Summit, ILO Director General Juan Somavia, said, 'We have to act now. We have to act together with others. We need to give life and commitment to the suggestions that came out of this meeting.'

Nine heads of state, five vice presidents and dozens of ministers were among nearly 5,000 participants from more than 160 countries attending the largest-ever gathering at an ILO event here.

The core of the summit is a Global Jobs Pact (GJP), proposed by the ILO, which was widely discussed and applauded by leaders such as French President Nicholas Sarkozy, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio 'Lula' Da Silva and Susan Burrow, President of the International Trade Union Federation. The GJP is expected to be adopted at the end of the ILO’s annual conference, which has been running since Jun. 3.

While there were no conclusions or recommendations issued, the summit provided plenty of opportunities for world leaders, employers and workers to discuss the key issues confronting their countries. Most analysts here said the GJP set the tone as the main theme of discussion, while most delegates endorsing it and are awaiting its approval.

After the conference, Somavia, speaking to a small group of Asian and African journalists, said the GJP is a pact between government, employers and workers and it is up to these groups to make it work in their own countries. 'We are not providing any assistance or financial support to make this work. It is up to the countries to implement it. It is in their interests to do so,' he said.

The GJP calls for high levels of employment and decent work for all. It also calls for an open economy that delivers opportunities and fairness - alongside sustainable environment and low carbon growth. It stresses the importance of social protections with strong and affordable social security systems and workers rights. Somavia said that the pact is suggesting many things that are already in place in most countries except that 'we are putting it together and providing some legitimacy.'

Among issues that figured prominently were the failure of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to deal with the crisis, and the condemnation of the Washington consensus by speakers from most countries including Europe.

The sudden surge in oil prices prompted some speakers to say that financial speculators were back at work and that there was no time to lose in tackling these issues.

Sarkozy called for urgent reforms to multilateral agencies and requested the IMF and the World Bank to respect the environment and social conditions in countries. He pushed for a new global system that finances entrepreneurs, not speculators.

'For those who think this is a temporary crisis, it’s a suicidal approach. We can’t wait… we have waited too long. We must act now,' warned the French President.

Burrow, an outspoken trade unionist, said the global crisis was bound to happen. 'The fault was obvious… corporate greed and self interest corrupting not only the board room, but the political will of many governments,' she said, adding that the workers are angry and demand fundamental change.

'We are angry that tens of millions will lose their jobs to join those who are already unemployed. Some 200 million will be forced into extreme poverty - joining the 1.2 billion who live on less than two dollars a day,' she said, adding: 'The word from workers and trade unions is clear. The party is over. There can no longer be business as usual.'

Somavia, asked about the role of the IMF in savings jobs, said the IMF’s business model failed three years ago at a time when most countries moved away from IMF aid saying they were not prepared for the stipulated conditions. He said the IMF at the time was forced to downsize and cut 300 jobs. 'In fact I was asked whether we could accommodate some of these professionals [at the ILO].'

He said the World Bank and the IMF models - based on structural adjustment of economies and cutting social expenditure - is now a thing of the past. 'They are no longer valid today, and won’t come into play when the fund offers money to needy countries,' he said.

But the ILO chief noted that while these funds are most likely available without conditions, it is up to the countries concerned to negotiate from a position of strength. 'You must not sit down with the IMF and ask what you can offer. You must state your case, your proposals and then say this is what we need the money for… even social protection schemes. You must not allow the IMF to dictate terms.'

Responding to a question on how the ILO can ensure the GJP works across the world, Somavia said, 'we don’t have a global governance system to make sure the GJP works. Its success depends on how the various stakeholders make it work in their own countries as it’s in their interests to do so.'