Decent Work Reduces Inequalities, Protects Vulnerable Groups in Global Crises, Speakers Stress, as Commission for Social Development Opens Session
With the pandemic, climate crisis and geopolitical conflicts exacerbating inequalities in access to health, education and jobs, countries must create productive employment and decent work and ensure the social protection of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, speakers emphasized today, as the Commission for Social Development opened its sixty-first session.
“Creating productive employment and decent work for all is a proven pathway to reduce inequality in a sustained manner,” said Alya Ahmed Saif al‑Thani (Qatar), Commission Chair. Pointing to multiple, entangled crises, including climate change, zoonotic diseases, political unrest and conflicts, she noted that income inequality has been on the rise in many countries while unequal social opportunities and access to decent employment, quality education and health care, or to productive assets, such as land and credit, continue to persist within and across countries.
Noting the session's priority theme, “Creating full and productive employment and decent work for all as a way of overcoming inequalities to accelerate the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, she added that social protection is central for shared prosperity, social equity and justice. Addressing the systemic exclusion of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups is an investment and not a mere expenditure, she emphasized.
Lachezara Stoeva (Bulgaria), President of the Economic and Social Council, said Governments must support those regions, industries and workers that will face the greatest challenges in a fair and inclusive transition to a green economy. Tailored job-search assistance, flexible learning courses, employment programmes, and hiring and transition incentives and policies are needed to facilitate the reallocation of displaced workers. Also needed are opportunities for young people to accumulate knowledge and skills for the labour market, as well as universal, gender-responsive and sustainable national social protection systems, she said.
Li Junhua, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, in a similar vein, urged the Commission to make bold recommendations on solutions that can cut across all issues and push the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development forward. Those recommendations should help create more inclusive and adaptable labour markets and provide targeted support for vulnerable people, he emphasized, noting that about 60 per cent of the workforce, or 2 billion people, are employed in the informal economy and many vulnerable groups, including the disabled, older people and women, are bearing the brunt of unemployment.
Jean Quinn, Chair of the Non-Governmental Organization Committee for Social Development, announced that a Civil Society Declaration, available in five languages, has been signed by 1,000 organizations and individuals. It should be part of the Commission’s outcome document, she said, adding that the Declaration highlights civil society’s commitment to building upon the principles of the Copenhagen Declaration and shares cross-cutting recommendations.
Rafiu Adeniran Lawal, youth representative and Founder and Executive Director of the Building Blocks for Peace Foundation, recalled that, in Nigeria, during the peak of the pandemic, many young people lost their jobs, suffered human rights violations and were excluded from health-care delivery interventions. As recovery continues, all interventions must be as inclusive as possible and not exclude young people, children or the elderly, he stressed, calling on Member States to commit to policies that are inclusive, equitable and adaptable to the labour market, and to invest in education, technology, infrastructure and health services that are accessible to all.
Frances Zainoeddin, a representative of the International Federation on Ageing, noting that she is “one of the oldest of the old”, said she counted herself lucky, having a home, food and pension, with access to health services. However, despite strides by Governments to implement the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing, older persons around the world continue to face persistent barriers preventing their autonomy, identity and independence, she said, urging swift and bold actions by Governments to ensure that ageing policies are human-rights-based.
The Commission also began its general discussion on the “Follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly”.
Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Inclusive Social Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, presented summaries of the Secretary-General's six reports related to creating full and productive employment for all; social dimensions of a new partnership for Africa’s development; collective actions for and with youth on digital technology; an assessment of the fourth review and appraisal of the 2002 Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing; implementation of the objectives of the International Year of the Family; and the social impact of multifaceted crises to accelerate recovery from COVID-19 pandemic.
Camilla Waltersson Grönvall, Minister for Social Services of Sweden, speaking for the European Union, drew attention to the barriers faced by women, youth, LGBTI people, older persons and people living with disabilities, in the labour market. She detailed the European Union’s efforts to address those challenges and called for universal ratification and effective implementation of all fundamental International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions.
Cuba’s representative, speaking for the “Group 77” developing countries and China, stressed that: “Unprecedented times call for an unprecedented response from the international community based on responsibility-sharing and global solidarity.” Underlining the need for North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation, he said developing countries need financial support of at least $3.3 to $4.5 trillion per year to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals within the given timeline.
In the afternoon, keynote speaker Manuela Tomei Assistant Director-General, Governance, Rights and Dialogue Cluster, International Labour Organization addressed the Commission’s high-level panel discussion on the session’s priority theme, stressing that to reduce inequality, it is necessary to create jobs for all those who need and wish to work. Further, equal access to quality education and training and quality public services from early childhood must be ensured.
Panellists echoed that, underlining the need for investments in education and called for financial inclusion, and integrated employment and social-protection policies, especially for women, youth, persons with disabilities, and informal workers.
In other business, and prior to its general discussion, the Commission elected by acclamation Hellen Mkhweo Chifwaila (Zambia) and Jon Ivanovski (North Macedonia) as Vice-Chairs, with Ms. Chifwaila also serving as Rapporteur. The Commission also adopted its provisional agenda and organization of work (document E/CN.5/2023/1).
At the outset of the meeting, the Chair expressed her condolences to the Governments and people of Türkiye and Syria, following the recent earthquakes, sentiments which were echoed by other speakers throughout the meeting.
Nivine el-Kabbag, Minister for Social Solidarity of Egypt also spoke during the general discussion, as did representatives of Egypt (for the African Group), Antigua and Barbuda (for the Caribbean Community), Chile (for the Group of Friends of Older Persons), Colombia (for the United Nations LGBTI+ Core Group), Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Peru, Ukraine, Honduras and Qatar.
The Commission for Social Development will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 7 February to continue its sixty-first session.
ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar), Chair of the Commission for Social Development, highlighted the sixty-first session’s theme “Creating full and productive employment and decent work for all as a way of overcoming inequalities to accelerate the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. The world is dealing with multiple, entangled crises caused by systemic risks, including climate change, zoonotic diseases political unrest and conflicts. High inequality, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, is eroding trust in Governments and international institutions. Income inequality has been on the rise in many countries while unequal social opportunities and access to decent employment, quality education and health care or to productive assets, such as land and credit, continue to persist within and across countries.
“Creating productive employment and decent work for all is a proven pathway to reduce inequality in a sustained manner,” she underscored, adding it promotes social inclusion and political participation and is part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Thus, the Commission’s deliberations should also point to wage- and social‑protection policies that can create full and productive employment and decent work. For progress to take hold, it is important to have integrated employment policy responses as the Secretary-General’s Global Jobs and Social Protection Accelerator for Just Transitions. Similarly, social protection is central for shared prosperity, social equity and justice, and addressing the systemic exclusion of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups; it is an investment and not a mere expenditure.
She then gave an overview of the Commission’s programme of work over the next four days, which includes six high-level panel discussions to address the issues with which the Commission is tasked. In that regard, a discussion will be held on the priority theme examining policies and strategies successful in creating more inclusive, equitable labour markets at the global, regional and national levels. As well, a ministerial forum on the priority theme will also be held along with a high-level panel discussion on the fourth Review and Appraisal of the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing, along with a panel discussion on “Addressing the social impacts of multifaceted crises to accelerate recovery from the lingering effects of the pandemic through the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. An interactive dialogue with senior United Nations officials on the priority theme will also be held, followed by a multistakeholder forum on the priority theme.
The Commission will also discuss issues pertaining to Africa’s social development and the situation of social groups, she noted. The Commission’s provision of substantive, engaging, technical, expert advice with concrete and action-oriented policy recommendations to the Economic and Social Council and Member States will help the latter in the preparation of their voluntary national reviews at the high-level political forum. She said she looked forward to the political participation of all delegations, civil society organizations and the United Nations system, and was counting on their support, suggestions and ideas to strengthen the Commission’s work.
LACHEZARA STOEVA (Bulgaria), President of the Economic and Social Council, warning that projections for global economic growth are dim, stressed that digital transformation, demographic trends and climate change are transforming the sectoral composition of growth, with implications for labour markets. These structural transformations require complementary efforts in education, training and life-long learning, she said, noting that the Commission will address these interlinkages focusing on the social dimension of sustainable development.
To ensure a fair and inclusive transition to a green economy, Governments must support those regions, industries and workers that will face the greatest challenges in the transition, she continued. Tailored job-search assistance, flexible learning courses, employment programmes and hiring and transition incentives are policies needed to facilitate the reallocation of displaced workers. To this end, she stressed the need to create opportunities for young people to accumulate knowledge and skills relevant for the labour market through education, training and early work experience.
She also called for universal, gender-responsive and sustainable national social protection systems. Commending the Commission’s collaboration with other functional commissions and with partners throughout the United Nations system, she stressed the importance of improving collaboration among the Economic and Social Council functional commissions and expert bodies.
LI JUNHUA, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the need for international development efforts has never been as urgent as they are today. The pandemic, the climate crisis and geopolitical crises are among factors which are contributing to global problems that are impacting the most vulnerable. The pandemic has increased extreme poverty and inequality across the world. People need productive employment and decent work to help themselves move out of poverty.
He said that he looked forward to how the Commission, in the days ahead, will find ways to contribute to efforts to achieve Global Goal 8. Less developed countries are still facing high unemployment rates and women are facing job losses. About 60 per cent of the workforce, or 2 billion people, are employed in the informal economy and many vulnerable groups, including the disabled, older people and women, are bearing the brunt of unemployment.
He also pointed out that there are just seven years to achieve the Goals by 2030. Therefore, discussion is needed to find solutions that can cut across all issues and push the 2030 Agenda forward, he stressed, urging the Commission to make bold recommendations. These recommendations should help create more inclusive and adaptable labour markets. In particular, targeted support for vulnerable people is needed, he emphasized, adding that he looked forward to hearing the Commission’s views on moving the world towards sustainable development.
JEAN QUINN, Chair of the Non-Governmental Organization Committee for Social Development, recalled that, at the 1995 World Summit for Social Development Governments reached a new consensus on putting people in the centre of development and fostering social integration. Outlining the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she highlighted a non-compromising vision of the document that can offer hope for those who long for recognition of human rights to dignity, equality, employment and justice. She noted with appreciation the report of the Secretary-General that spotlights inequalities in the labour market and structural barriers faced by categories of workers and disadvantaged groups. That report also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed inequalities in the labour market, including among those facing discrimination and marginalization in unemployment.
A disconnected and fragmented approach to social, economic and environmental policies has not produced the desired results towards poverty eradication, full employment and social inclusion, she continued, saying that the process to the Social Summit could provide a platform for forging new vision to achieve a higher quality of life for all people. Movements towards goals of equality, health, knowledge and cohesion, and not simply the pursuit of microeconomic growth, will require a human-centred recovery shaped by economic models. Outlining the priorities of the Committee, she pointed out that a Civil Society Declaration, available in five languages, has been signed by 1,000 organizations and individuals. She added that it should be a part of the outcome document of the Commission. The Declaration also highlights civil society’s commitment to building upon the principles of the Copenhagen Declaration and shares cross‑cutting recommendations.
“We are a people of hope,” she said, pointing out that that hope is supported by Our Common Agenda report. She also underlined that, at the 1995 World Summit, leaders committed to the construction of a world in which all women and men could exercise the rights, utilize resources and share responsibilities to enable them lead satisfying lives. The vision of shared endeavour, common responsibility and universal participation is needed today more than ever, she emphasized, adding: “Let us then rise to its demands and not delay in taking the practical steps needed to translate that vision into social, economic and political reality.”
RAFIU ADENIRAN LAWAL, youth representative and Founder and Executive Director of the Building Blocks for Peace Foundation, via a pre-recorded message, said that that his youth non-governmental organization works on conflict prevention, peacebuilding, accountability, governance and sustainable development in Nigeria. Spotlighting the global impact of COVID‑19, he said that, in Nigeria, during the peak of the pandemic, many young people lost their jobs, suffered human rights violations and were excluded from health-care delivery interventions.
This was a result of the erroneous belief that young people possess some kind of immunity against the pandemic, he continued. As recovery continues, all interventions must be as inclusive as possible and not exclude young people, children or the elderly, he stressed. To that end, in 2021, the Government of Nigeria adopted a revised youth employment action plan to help create decent, productive and freely chosen employment for young men and women. Quality and decent jobs are critical to tackling inequality as they help to increase income, help people escape from poverty and empower them to support the Sustainable Development Goals.
He went on to say that Member States must commit to existing policies supporting decent and quality jobs for all and create new policies that are inclusive, equitable and adaptable to the labour market. Moreover, investment in education, technology, infrastructure and health services that are accessible to all will also help to reduce inequality and poverty and enhance human capital development for the rapid achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. “Decent and quality jobs are what we really need if we are to accelerate the recovery effort against the COVID-19 pandemic,” he emphasized, adding that all must recognize that social security is an important tool to prevent and reduce poverty.
FRANCES ZAINOEDDIN, International Federation on Ageing, noting that she is “one of the oldest of the old”, said she hoped that, when her granddaughters grow up, they will not have to fight for their rights as women and older women. She also pointed out that she counted herself lucky, having a home, food and pension with access to health services. But millions are not less fortunate, despite strides by Governments to implement the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing. Rather, the majority of COVID-19 deaths were people over the age of 60. Older persons around the world continue to face persistent barriers preventing their autonomy, identity and independence. Moreover, older persons with disabilities, older Indigenous peoples and older LGBTIQ+ are at greater risk due to overlapping inequalities that create compound deprivation and disadvantage.
She voiced concern over violence against older women “thrives on the culture of silence”, both in the family and in institutions, adding that older women have been branded as witches, stripped of their property, lynched and burned to death. Against this backdrop, she underscored the importance of health, education, skills training, employment and economic security. Addressing the youth delegates, she pointed out that they share much more in common as they are both impacted by the same harmful practices and traditions. “If I am the older person of today, make no mistake, you are the older person of tomorrow,” she said.
Urging swift and bold actions by Governments to ensure that ageing policies are human-rights-based, the future generations may face even more inequality and economic insecurity, she continued, calling for efforts to work collaboratively to protect the human rights of older persons. She also recalled that in the review of the Madrid Plan of Action, countries from all five regions called for the development of an international legal instrument that codified minimum standards of practices and accountability, among others. To that end, she declared: “It is time to protect the human rights of older persons.”
Election of Officers and Organization of Work
The Commission elected by acclamation Hellen Mkhweo Chifwaila (Zambia) and Jon Ivanovski (North Macedonia) as Vice-Chairs of the Commission’s sixty-first session. Ms. Al-Thani said Ms. Chifwaila will also serve as Rapporteur for the session. The Commission then adopted the provisional agenda and organization of work contained in document E/CN.5/2023/1.
The Commission then adopted a draft oral decision: “The Commission decides, without setting a precedent for future sessions of the Commission for Social Development, that Member States, observer States, 20 intergovernmental organizations, as well as specialized agencies, related organizations and civil society organizations, may submit a pre-recorded statement, which will be played in the conference room during the general discussion of the Commission for Social Development at its sixty-first session.”
Ms. Al-Thani then invited the Commission to consider the agenda item ”Follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly”, and two subitems: (a) Creating full and productive employment and decent work for all as a way of overcoming inequalities to accelerate the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda”; and (b) “Review of relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups”.
Introduction of Reports
DANIELA BAS, Director of the Division for Inclusive Social Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, presented summaries of the six Secretary-General related reports and highlighted their key aspects. Drawing attention to the first report on creating full and productive employment for all, she pointed out that it provides an overview of current and future trends in inequality; highlights strategies to create full and productive employment; includes suggestions on what efforts can be taken to establish universal social protection systems and policies to expand the decent employment opportunities and offers respective strategies. The report concludes with recommendations on how countries could make further progress.
The second report focuses on social dimensions of a new partnership for Africa’s development, she continued. The report identifies three major crisis, including the COVID-19 pandemic, global effects of the Ukraine conflict and climate change. It also presents reviews of the socioeconomic progress and challenges and the efforts undertaken by African counties, United Nations system and the African Union to help the continent emerge from the crises. It calls upon African counties to prioritize policies to strengthen the health sector, tackle climate emergency, combat hunger by creating nationally appropriate social‑protection systems by reforming agricultural food system, tackling limited water resources, and closing the gender divide.
She went on to detail the third report, which tackles issues related to youth by examining collective actions for and with youth on digital technology and addresses interaction of digital divide with employment, education and health. It also analyses the impact of digital technology on youth that had access to the Internet during the pandemic. The fourth report provides an assessment of the fourth review and appraisal of the 2002 Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing, reports on an overview of regional review and appraisal processes and provides respective policy reviews.
The fifth report focuses on implementation of the objectives of the International Year of the Family, she said. As part of the preparation of the thirtieth anniversary of the International Year of Family in 2024, it analyses organizational and migration trends that have impact on how families look like now and may look like in the future, emphasizes the importance of family reunification for migrants and outlines various forms of support for migrants. The report recommends investing in sustainable urbanization and intergenerational living arrangements.
The sixth report presents social impact of multifaceted crises to accelerate recovery from COVID-19 pandemic by assessing interlinked social impacts of the pandemic, ongoing regional conflicts, climate change and global economic outlook. It presents policies and measures taken by Member States, provides the assembling of their efforts to tackle crisis and emergencies and suggests expanding social protection to combat various multidimensional forms of poverty. The report emphasizes the importance of international cooperation and solidarity.
CAMILLA WALTERSSON GRÖNVALL, Minister for Social Services of Sweden, speaking for the European Union, noted that the bloc’s first review on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals will be presented at the high-level political forum in July. In addition, the first-ever agreement at the European level was signed by institutions, workers and employers at the Porto Social Summit of 2021 with concrete targets on employment, training and poverty indicators. The European Union promotes decent work in different policy areas, she added, calling for universal ratification and effective implementation of all fundamental International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions. Because youth face structural barriers in the labour market, the European Union is promoting education and training and preparing young people for the digital and green transitions. In 2022 — the European Year of Youth — the bloc examined ways to give young people a stronger voice in policymaking with particular attention to reaching disadvantaged young persons, including initiatives to promote education and skills development amid labour market changes in the green and digital transitions.
Work-life balance is a daily challenge for many, particularly women, she continued, noting that the European Union prioritizes the empowerment of women and girls and works to strengthen protections against discrimination in the workplace. She also drew attention to the risk of violence faced by LGBTI people and discrimination faced by those with disabilities. Over 1 billion people in the world live with some type of disability, but globally, only 28 per cent of persons with disabilities have access to disability benefits, with only 1 per cent in low-income countries. In addition, the human rights and dignity of older persons must be preserved as they face significantly higher risks of mortality, aggravated pre-existing mental health conditions and severe diseases from COVID-19. The pandemic has highlighted the impact on older persons’ social and occupational inclusion, employment opportunities and right to health, as well as their participation in the digital transformation. As such, the continued efforts to implement the Madrid Plan of Action and the related work of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) Standing Working Group on Ageing is more important than ever, she said.
YUSNIER ROMERO PUENTES (Cuba), speaking for the “Group 77” developing countries and China, said that global complex challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, economic downturn and existential threat of climate change have reversed progress towards the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly for developing countries. It is essential to work towards creating full and productive employment for all as a way of overcoming inequalities to accelerate the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. “Unprecedented times call for an unprecedented response from the international community based on responsibility-sharing and global solidarity,” he stressed, underlining the need for North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation. Further, developing countries need financial support of at least $3.3 to $4.5 trillion per year to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals within the given timeline.
To this end, he reaffirmed the importance of official development assistance (ODA) in supporting the sustainable development needs of developing countries. In addition, those countries require fiscal space to provide social protection and universal health coverage to their populations. As well, international financial institutions should support global efforts towards sustainable development, food security and long-term debt sustainability. More so, imposition of coercive economic measures — including unilateral sanctions — against developing countries does not contribute to economic and social development and undermine efforts towards creating productive employment for all as a way of overcoming inequalities. Creating productive employment for all also requires equal access to quality education and lifelong learning opportunities, he asserted.
OSAMA MAHMOUD ABDELKHALEK MAHMOUD (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the African Group and aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and worsened inequalities, impacting nutrition, health, education, jobs and livelihoods. People in vulnerable situations including those living with HIV and AIDS, disabled persons, refugees and displaced persons, women, youth and children continue to be the most affected by these impacts. He also voiced his concern regarding the more than 2 billion workers around the world who work in the informal economy. In Africa, informal employment and unemployment among young people and women has continued to increase. Informal employment creates challenges for these people in accessing credit, markets and services, which then hampers productivity and growth of economies and businesses.
He also stressed that social-protection systems, including nationally defined social-protection floors, are an effective instrument not only for eradicating poverty, but also for reducing inequality and building resilience. Adaptive social-protection systems can also address compounded vulnerabilities and reduce disaster risk, and thus build resilience within communities, creating full and productive employment and decent work for all is a proven pathway to reducing inequality in a sustained manner. Stressing the need to transition to a low greenhouse-gas economy, he welcomed the partnership between the African Development Bank and the Global Center for Adaptation on the African Adaption Acceleration Program. This programme aims to mobilize $25 billion to accelerate the implementation of the African Adaptation Acceleration Initiative of the African Union. In that regard, developed countries are called upon to deliver fully on their $100 billion commitment to developing countries.
WALTON ALFONSO WEBSON (Antigua and Barbuda), speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), aligned himself with the Group of 77 and China. He pointed out that people-centred sustainable development through poverty eradication, enhancement of productive employment and reduction in unemployment is as relevant today as it was in 1995 when the World Summit for Social Development was held. Developing countries, including small island developing States, have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic which places their vulnerable economies in a precarious situation. Further, climate change also presents an existential threat to the region. “Notwithstanding, CARICOM member States remain resolute and resilient amidst the myriad of challenges,” he added, pointing out that States are being guided by the CARICOM Human Resource Development Strategy 2030. Recalling that the countries had to address the loss of employment, educational opportunities and digital divide by tailoring their social protection systems to adjust to the new realities, he underscored that poverty eradication and education constitute indispensable parts of the solution to the contemporary challenges.
Pointing out that addressing inequality includes creating full and productive employment and decent work for all, he emphasized the importance of long-term social policy investments that promote sustainable development and economic growth. The fight to reduce inequality and poverty requires an integrated, cross-cutting and collaborative approach, he added, reiterating the importance of international cooperation and the role of partnerships between all stakeholders, including North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation. Such efforts must support national efforts to fight inequality and eradicate poverty. He went on to reaffirm the commitment of CARICOM to fulfilling the goals outlined in the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action adopted in 1995, particularly poverty eradication, promotion of full and productive employment, and the fostering of social inclusion.
PAULA NARVAEZ (Chile), speaking for the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said that the ageing of populations must be considered in relation to the Commission’s priority theme this year. The increase in the workforce participation of workers aged 55 years and over will persist, despite a decline in the overall global labour force participation rate in the next decade. All persons should be able to enjoy their right to decent work so long as they are willing and able to participate in the labour force, including at an older age. Noting that age-based discrimination is one of the main barriers faced by older persons in employment, she said active measures must be taken to address age discrimination, including policies, legislation and public awareness campaigns. Such measures may involve offering flexible and part-time decent work arrangements, as well as exploiting the potential of new digital technology. Further, older persons entering into the informal economy is often not by choice. Rather it can be the result of a lack of opportunities in the formal economy and the absence of other means of livelihood, owing to the non-existence of or the inadequacy of benefits provided by pension systems.
Hence, well-funded universal social-protection systems, as well as care systems, are critical to guarantee that older persons have access to at least an adequate minimum income and key services, such as health care and long-term care, she continued. Noting that barriers to women’s access to labour markets persist through their lives, she called for a gender- and human rights-based perspective on ageing in policies and programmes related to decent work and employment. Underscoring the Madrid Plan of Action as an important roadmap to link the issues of ageing, human rights and development, she cited the Secretary-General, noting that older persons are estimated to globally outnumber youth by 2030, global ageing is bound to shape the prospects for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Thus, it is important to have a forward-looking view and mainstream ageing across the United Nations system, as well as in national contexts, in order to effectively address the implications of longevity and population ageing, she said.
LEONOR ZALABATA TORRES (Colombia), speaking for the United Nations LGBTI+ Core Group, stressed the importance of universal access to human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons, without distinction, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The Group has constantly called for recognition and elimination of multiple, interrelated forms of discrimination and violence which LGBTI+ people face, as well as the situation of vulnerability in which they may find themselves. Recognizing the impact of the multifaceted challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic on social development, she underscored that the most marginalized people have been the ones hardest hit.
Against this backdrop, she stressed the need to create productive employment and decent work for all as a way of overcoming inequalities to accelerate the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Recognizing the major risk of unemployment and exclusion faced by LGBTI+ people, she voiced concern over barriers in the labour market and lack of access to social protection, including to paid sick leave. In that regard, the LGBTI+ people are more exposed to hunger, poverty, violence and discrimination. She called on States to address the difficulties faced by the LGBTI+ persons in accessing the labour market, as well as to provide timely data to be used as a basis for drafting reports.
Mr. DE CAMPS (Dominican Republic) said the pandemic has worsened inequality and the conditions for decent and fair work have deteriorated. His Government has focused on developing programmes and policies to recover jobs lost during the pandemic. It aims to create 600,000 new jobs and is working to set up health-care clinics on job sites, especially in tourist areas. It also aims to ensure workers’ salaries keep up with increases in living costs. Its goal is to ensure that no Dominican is left behind due to the inequality that exists in the post-pandemic era. In addition, the Government is addressing gaps in the informal labour market and providing improved working conditions for domestic workers, such as workers compensation and paid medical and maternity leave. It is working to bring together companies and employees in the informal sector and provide social protection for all people. It is also working to create decent employment for people with disabilities and remove barriers to their inclusion in the labour market, as well as creating policies that allow older people to age with dignity.
NIVINE EL KABBAG, Minister for Social Solidarity of Egypt, said that her Ministry plays a pivotal role in building, protecting, and investing in human capital through extending a social safety net through an economic empowerment programme, investing in vocational training and ensuring financial inclusion, as well as empowering vulnerable groups. These priorities constitute a core part of Egypt Human Rights strategy launched in September 2021, she added. Outlining the different policies adopted by the Ministry of Social Solidarity to alleviate multidimensional poverty, she pointed out that financial assistance was provided to 1.6 million for the period of eight months, whereas 13.8 million workers received support through social insurance and pension systems. In 2021, the President of Egypt launched a massive social and economic development programme, which extended to nearly 58 per cent of the population in 4,500 villages in 20 governorates with the total cost of 850 billion Egyptian pounds.
A comprehensive and inclusive approach was also adopted on developing rural areas, expanding water and sanitation services, electricity, telecommunication and banking services, she continued. Economic empowerment initiatives, which included 120 microenterprises, were implemented with soft loans and low interest rates. Food security and environmental projects were launched to support small farmers to promote utilization of natural resources, value chain initiatives, income-generating activities, recycling and agribusiness incubators. The programme also expanded opportunities for participation of women in the labour market and offered reproductive health services to reduce population growth and promote early childhood development services. The Ministry issued over 11 million “Meeza” pre-paid cards for beneficiaries of the social protection programmes to ensure financial inclusion. Investment in social protection needs to go beyond a one-off crisis response and be a part of broader and longer-term policies that alleviate poverty and reduce inequalities, she added.
RAFAEL RODRÍGUEZ, Minister for Labour of Guatemala, said that, to promote inclusive and sustained economic growth, his Government, with vulnerable peoples, employers and workers, has drafted its national policy for decent employment for 2017-2032 and the National Development Plan K'atún 2032. Its objectives include employment generation, human capital development, creating a favourable environment for development of enterprises and transition to the formal sector. It is also focused on human rights, decent work, outreach, social dialogue, inclusion and gender equity so that women and men can have decent and productive jobs. The National Commission for Decent Employment has implemented a policy to focus on the decision-making process in the formal labour market, he noted, adding that there are three indicators to measure this sector so that work being done in the informal sector can be better understood. In addition, it has promoted implementation of a school food programme and created opportunities for self-employment among small-scale farmers so they can provide food, through the Ministry of Education, to children attending school, he said, also detailing the country’s other initiatives to provide opportunities for migrants, minimum wage workers, people with disabilities and other groups.
Mr. DEMARTINI MONTES (Peru) reiterated his Government’s commitment to achieving the development and social inclusion for all Peruvians. In recent years, Peru has been a success story of economic stability in Latin America, he asserted, recalling that, in October 2022, its gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 2 per cent. In light of significant progress in reducing poverty in Peru, he drew attention to a new national policy on development and social inclusion — aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals stressing that, by 2030, social exclusion generated by poverty will have been reduced through all phases of the life cycle. Describing monetary poverty as just one aspect of the concept of poverty, he stressed that poverty is multidimensional. Underscoring the importance of economic inclusion of youth and adults, he pointed to the Cooperation Fund for Development. He also stressed the importance of promoting sustainable economic inclusion of poor rural communities, including family entrepreneurship in Amazon rural communities. As well, the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion is committed to implementing the 2030 Agenda, he noted.
Ms. ZHOLNOVYCH (Ukraine) said the country is facing many challenges as the invasion by the Russian Federation has forced 14 million people to leave their homes. About 2.4 million jobs were lost in the country and the poverty level, which was 5.5 per cent in 2021, reached 25 per cent in 2022. Inflation stands at 30 per cent. The sustained military attacks by the Russian Federation have destroyed infrastructure. Despite these challenges, the Ukraine Government is maintaining the stability of its social-protection programmes and payments, including the payment of pensions. It is providing financial incentives to employers to hire internally displaced workers. It is developing a modern prosthetics industry so people, including many young people, who have lost their limbs during the war can have active lives. The development of this industry will be valuable for Europe and the world. She also said that the Ukraine Government is using digital technology to maintain social payments to people living in occupied areas, adding that the stabilization of Ukraine is important in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
JOSÉ CARLOS CARDONA ERAZO (Honduras), aligning himself with the Group of Friends of Older People and the United Nations Group to Protect Human Rights of LGBTQI Persons, recalled that his country’s anti-democratic and authoritarian Government did not address the social agenda for 12 years following the State coup of 2009. Because of this, a total of 5.5 million people became at risk of food insecurity, with 7 million people living on the poverty line. In 2022, the new Government focused on social protection by creating a “solidarity network” programme that seeks to reach 3.5 million people living in over 2,000 communities in extremely poor sections of the country and supports 12 socially vulnerable groups by providing accessible financing. The Government, investing $50 million, also implemented agricultural, livestock and coffee bonds to increase the country’s productive capacity in order to tackle food insecurity and launched school food programmes to reach 1.2 million children. In addition, addressing environmental vulnerabilities, Honduras set up “green battalions” and created funds for re-forestation, he reported.
MARIAM BINT ALI BIN NASSER AL MISNAD, Minister for Social Development and Family of Qatar, noting her country tries to convey its experiences, particularly to developing States, said that, since 1995, Qatar has achieved a comprehensive social breakthrough, including limiting poverty, increasing social inclusion and taking care of vulnerable groups. Acknowledging the fall-out from the COVID-19 pandemic, she said that Qatar set aside $28 billion for the private sector and for paying workers’ wages and salaries, leading to the lowest rates of work loss in Qatar. Recalling the General Assembly resolution on the family, she said her country is also working to end poverty and hunger and increase the productivity of those families. Qatar is proud to host the fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries from 5 to 9 March, she said, urging international cooperation so that no one is left behind and all can enjoy decent work.
MANUELA TOMEI, Assistant Director-General, Governance, Rights and Dialogue Cluster, International Labour Organization (ILO), said that, eight years after its adoption, the 2030 Agenda is being put to the test by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, the war in Ukraine and demographic and digital transitions. The pandemic has killed over 6.8 million people, pushed millions into extreme poverty and hunger, and has destroyed businesses and jobs. Many countries are still recovering from it, while the world is facing other crises. Existing inequalities in income, employment and rights have widened, and discrimination and hostility towards women, migrants and refugees has intensified, as well. According to the last edition of the World Inequality Report, the top 10 per cent of the global population currently takes 52 per cent of global income, whereas the poorest half earns 6.5 per cent of it. Women’s share of total incomes from work is less than 35 per cent, just a 5 per cent rise relative to 1990. She also noted that 214 million workers live in extreme poverty — on less than $1.90 a day — and the number of working poor is increasing in developing countries.
Highlighting that global labour markets are highly unequal, both in opportunities and outcomes, she said that large gender gaps in employment, unemployment, pay and pensions persist. About 290 million youth globally are not in education, employment or training, while 2 billion people work in the informal economy. Unstable jobs and income, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions and no social protection led to a disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on these workers that saw their earnings drop by 60 per cent in 2020. The COVID-19 crisis has also reversed a decades-long trend of declining inequalities among countries, laying bare their unequal capacity to absorb external shocks and put in place the necessary public health measures.
She went on to underscored that the surge in wheat and oil prices in the fall of 2021 — amplified by the war in Ukraine — has deepened food insecurity and is eroding the purchasing power of workers, especially those at the bottom of the income distribution, fuelling social riots and strikes. The pandemic confirmed that high levels of inequality cripple the resilience of people and businesses in the face of crises. Describing inequality as a multidimensional, country- and time-specific phenomenon, she said that no single policy intervention nor single actor will make the trick, but, instead, a combination of them.
ILO constituents agreed that both external factors and political decisions have an impact on the extent of inequality within and across countries, she continued. For instance, developing countries crippled by chronic levels of international debt have limited fiscal space to reverse their structural problems. To reduce inequality, it is necessary to create jobs for all those who need and wish to work, she said, advocating for pro-employment and gender-transformative financial frameworks. Moreover, ensuring equal access to quality education and training, including life-long training, and quality public services from early childhood is key.
She also stressed the importance of protecting workers against work-related deaths, sickness and injuries. The Secretary-General recently launched the Global Accelerator on Jobs Protection, aiming to create 400 million jobs and extending social protection to the 4 billion people without coverage today, she noted, adding that economic, social and environmental challenges cannot be tackled separately. She also highlighted ILO’s initiative — a Global Coalition for Social Justice — whose aim is to create global momentum to place social justice and decent work at the heart of national and global policymaking.
The Commission then held a high-level panel discussion on the priority theme “Creating full and productive employment and decent work for all as a way of overcoming inequalities to accelerate the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
The discussion — moderated by Carmela I. Torres, Undersecretary, Employment and Human Resources Development, Department of Labour and Employment, Philippines — featured the presentations by Rafael Eugenio Rodríguez Pellecer, Minister, Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, Guatemala; Dirk Andreas Zetzsche, Professor, Financial Law, University of Luxembourg; Céline Thévenot, Senior Economist, Fiscal Affairs Division, Spending Policy Department, International Monetary Fund (IMF); Paola Simonetti, Director, Equality Department, International Trade Union Confederation; and Rose Ngugi, Executive Director, Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (joining via teleconference).
Ms. TORRES said the session’s theme is very important as full and productive employment for all is critical to overcoming inequality. Quality jobs can increase people’s income-earning possibilities and provide opportunities for them to improve their lives. Despite the strides made by Member States towards the 2030 Agenda and the promise to leave no one behind, inequalities remain. Labour informality remains unresolved, youth unemployment remains high and the gender gap remains. The pandemic exacerbated the problems facing marginalized groups. Progress towards many Sustainable Development Goals, including those on poverty, gender equality and decent work, has slowed. She said she looked forward to hearing the panellists’ views on issues such as the labour market, minimum wages and social-protection systems and what policies can help overcome inequality. These elements are among the powerful tools that can help people overcome inequality and create more inclusive, equitable and fair labour markets at the local, regional and global levels.
Mr. RODRÍGUEZ PELLECER said that his country was the least affected in Latin American by the pandemic with a drop of 1.9 per cent of GDP, with a consequent growth of 8 per cent and 4 per cent in 2021 and 2022 respectively. One of the least indebted countries in Latin America, Guatemala allocated $1.7 billion to social programmes, including payments to 1 million families over the course of three months. With more than 70 per cent of the economy in the informal sector, a fund for the protection of employment was established to address the suspension of labour contracts. Employers were required to register labour contracts to protect employees. This allowed the employees to get access to funds in the emergency period; over 190,000 people benefited from that employment fund. In addition, foreign direct investment (FDI) increased in certain types of companies, which required English language skills. However very few people could benefit from those job opportunities as they did not speak sufficient English. The Government, in collaboration with the Congress and the European Union, set up a fund for 24,000 grants, which allowed people to be certified in English and find decent jobs. He also spotlighted the priority of ensuring the re-investment of State’s revenues in rural areas. In this regard, a “School Feeding” programme was established two years ago to ensure that schools meals were provided to all children in pre-primary and primary levels. The aim was to ensure that the resources invested remained at the local level with farmers providing healthy food to children in local schools. This allowed farmers to formalize their work by acquiring a tax-payer number. Turning to solidarity among nations, he outlined a large scale of irregular immigration towards the United States and Canada. Efforts were made regarding those flows. However, they were insufficient. This is a challenge that still needs to be overcome, he added.
Mr. ZETZSCHE said his research deals with regulation to further sustainable development, noting that he has worked with development institutions and regulators in projects and capacity-building in emerging, developing and the least developed economies. Inequalities, as well as environmental, social, health and political crises hit the vulnerable first, due to their tendency to have undiversified income, lower levels of education and less influence on overall economic, social and governance conditions. To address inequality, underdevelopment and changing environment and sociopolitical conditions, regulation is of utmost importance, he stressed, noting that COVID-19 highlighted the exposure of the vulnerable, undermined years of sustainable development efforts and forced digitization. Financial inclusion is a precondition of sustainable development, he emphasized, pointing out that, during the pandemic, Government-to-people payments often could neither be calculated nor paid out due to the financial exclusion of a large informal sector of the economy. Financial inclusion is thus also a precondition for any crisis-resilient policy approach seeking to combat inequalities. At a minimum, everyone should have a payments account, he emphasized. A payments trail from employer to employee enables an accounting fit for determining public and private benefits in and out of crisis. Long-term-oriented financial inclusion policies drive fundamental and inclusive economic change, he said, highlighting that digitization is a key enabler to financial inclusion. Moreover, any social inclusion rests on financial empowerment and financial inclusion, he pointed out, underscoring the need for the disadvantaged to have a form of digital ID where formal IDs are lacking to facilitate payment and additional basic services. Financial inclusion provides a choice for those short of opportunities and has often created decent jobs in new, sustainable and growing sectors.
Ms. THEVENOT said connections among inequalities in income, access to basic services and opportunities were mutually reinforcing, voicing concerns about how disadvantages transmit from one generation to the next. These challenges were also compounded by long-term challenges, such as climate change and digitalization. The pandemic impacted the most vulnerable. For instance, during the pandemic, the mortality rate was higher in areas with lower access to health care. Poorer individuals, who lived in areas with less access to hygiene water and sanitation, and relied more on public transportation, were more exposed to the consequences of the pandemic. On the labour market, workers who were not in full-time, full-year formal employment, who were in non-standard work arrangements, were less likely to be covered by existing social safety nets. Global estimates point to an increase of 95 million additional people in extreme poverty in 2020 relative to pre-COVID projections. Another possible long-lasting impact of the pandemic on inequality is due to school closures, with children from poorer families hit more severely. Governments should ensure well-functioning labour markets by investing in active labour market policies vocational training, job-search assistance, wage subsidies or public work programmes. Moreover, reducing gender gaps in labour markets can boost growth and enhance equality of opportunities by making childcare more widely available and affordable, while providing more parental leave. Investing in education can create opportunities for children before they enter the labour market, she said, adding that public spending in education can compensate the gap in investment in children between rich and poor parents. The objective of increasing spending in education, health and infrastructure comes at a cost, she said, noting that increasing access to public services to reach the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 would require $3 trillion for 121 emerging market economies and low-income developing countries.
Ms. SIMONETTI said to face these interconnected challenges, a new social contract is needed, rooted in a gender-transformative agenda for recovery and resilience. This contract includes the creation of 575 million climate-friendly and decent jobs by 2030. It also includes transforming at least 1 billion informal workers into formal status, with rights, minimum wages, universal social protection and equality and inclusion. These are crucial to achieve all the Goals, including Goal 8. This will require increased public investment in strategic economic sectors, such as the care economy, green economy and sustainable infrastructure. “And this is feasible,” she said, pointing to an upcoming International Trade Union (ITU) Confederation report that shows a repeated annual public spending increase of 1 per cent of GDP, within these three sectors, would yield major economic returns that exceed the initial investments. The care economy is crucial to increasing women’s participation in the labour market as two thirds of the global care workforce are women. They are often trapped in underpaid, precarious and informal jobs. At the same time, the potential for job creation is huge: ILO estimates that global investment in universal childcare and long-term care would create 280 million jobs by 2030 and boost the employment rate of women by 78 per cent, with 84 per cent of the jobs in the formal sector. The Accelerator on Jobs, Social Protection and Just Transitions is a concrete step in the right direction. It aims to create at least 400 million jobs by 2030, primarily in the green and care economies, and promotes integrated employment and social protection policies. She called on Governments to support its implementation. Moving towards the Goals means shifting current development models that are impeding progress and equality for working women and men around the world. “The world needs a new vision to reorganize economic and societal models, to build truly inclusive, sustainable economies and societies,” she said. “This requires commitments from all economic, social and political forces.”
Ms. NGUGI, describing measures of promoting inclusion of persons with disabilities, pointed out that, while 15 per cent of the world population live with some form of disability, 80 per cent of such people are located in developing countries. The share of women with disabilities is higher than that of men, she said, also observing that the majority of persons with disabilities are in rural areas and are largely self-employed. Turning to social protection, she said that most of the persons with disabilities are not receiving cash transfers and do not have social insurance. They face higher levels of poverty and are impacted by a higher digital divide. To ensure employment growth and equal opportunities, she suggested that people with disabilities be included in the agribusiness value chain and that low-technology adaptation be introduced in certain activities. Highlighting the importance of tripartite partnerships in developing effective strategies to exploit job opportunities, she encouraged investing in developing future skills and creating conducive environment for businesses, while ensuring essential infrastructure. She further suggested the adoption of cash transfers per person with severe disabilities rather than per household to allow adequate income meets basic living expenses and ensures the social protection of a caregiver. With regards to labour-market inclusion, she outlined mainstreaming disability in Governments and achieving respective employment quota in Government institutions; strengthening organizations of the persons with disabilities and improving their coordination; providing opportunities for training; and promoting workplaces suitable for persons with disabilities with assistive technology. Underscoring the importance of reducing the digital divide and facilitating access to the Internet, she encouraged national agencies to provide a platform where the persons with disabilities could engage and exchange their views.
In the ensuing dialogue, speakers, describing national initiatives in regard to social and labour protection, questioned the panellists about strategies that would expand those efforts.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, underlined the importance of solidarity in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, adding that this is especially crucial during the transition to green and digital economies. Given the global challenges to ensure the rights of all workers and their dignity, she said, it is essential to protect the freedom of association and collective bargaining because these are enabling rights for the enjoyment of other labour rights. What is the role of respect for international labour standards in ensuring the sustainable livelihoods of workers, she asked, also raising a question about mobilizing vocational training to ensure that young people can find initial employment.
Responding, Ms. TOMEI noted that workers and economic units in the informal sector fall outside the scope of labour law and social‑protection coverage. Highlighting the example of Guatemala, she noted that, in order to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in the informal economy, its Government ensured that informal workers were included in the provision of cash transfers for three months. It also encouraged employers to register them and thus formalize their employment. Turning to the second question, she said that facilitating the transition from school to work is crucial. School curricula and training programmes must be designed with the needs of labour markets in mind, she added, stressing that it is necessary to identify the skills and competencies that are in demand in the world of work.
Mr. RODRÍGUEZ PELLECER said that, in his country, inspections are the backbone of this entire effort. To make sure that work is made more ethical and transparent, it is essential to ensure that these inspections are carried out. Often, someone works in the informal sector, even if they could be working in the formal sector, such as traders working in major markets. In case of developing countries, key elements need to be addressed. With regard to workers who have no labour protection, he said that there is need for migrants in host and destination countries, as well as on the part of the employer. He called for formalization and efforts in the direction of regular legal migration.
Mr. ZETZSCHE underscored the positive benefit of financial inclusion as it allows for public enforcement where private enforcement is unlikely to work. Practical training is extremely important for skilled labour, particularly for training people in non-academic skills, he said, adding that high-quality apprenticeship work requires personal contact. He further stressed that usually, young people are immobile as they are lacking financial needs and social skills to remain mobile.
Ms. SIMONETTI said providing inclusive financial services is important to protect the rights of workers and shift informal workers into the formal sector. Universal social-protection measures with minimum floors, such as a living minimum wage, helps protect workers. Access to collective bargaining and labour protection laws are also very important. The ratification of ILO 189 in the Philippines, for example, led to consultations with social partners and trade unions and helped formalize the jobs of many informal domestic workers. This is a concrete example of how international standards and rights can directly impact the life of workers. There are 2 billion informal workers and the formalization process must be stepped up. Regarding education, she said a key element of the new social contract is providing life-long learning throughout workers’ professional life. This is fundamental as workers transition from one job to another or their jobs cease to exist. Access to skills and life-long learning is key.
Ms. NGUGI, addressing formalization, pointed out that her Government encouraged some sectors, including the motorcycle sector, to form cooperatives, and underscored the importance of incorporating locality in ensuring protection. Turning to TVET courses in Kenya, she emphasized that technical training should reflect the technical realities on the ground. With regard to CISCO Bridge Academy, meant to build digital skills for persons with disabilities, she pointed out that 44 persons joined the market having taken the course, which proves that vocation training can be used to provide persons with disability with the necessary practical skills.
The Minister of Development and Social Exclusion of Peru said that the Ministry had adopted a new policy with a cross-cutting element: a targeted approach to intersectoral and intergovernmental collaboration. Pointing out that social problems existed prior to COVID-19 pandemic, he urged States to work towards good quality education to allow for entrepreneurship and responses to the demands of job market. In this regard, he highlighted the importance of strengthening formal employment and ensuring the supply and demand of jobs. There can be no inclusion without development, he said, emphasizing that social inclusion can only be addressed if all national strategies are strengthened holistically on the bases of international cooperation.
The representative of Zimbabwe recognized the importance of inclusive development and noted that COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated already existing inequalities, including among persons with disabilities. He questioned if other countries tried to bridge the gap caused by the pandemic regarding learning, given that many persons with disabilities could not benefit from digital learning during that time. Noting that social assistance, although very important, may not help persons with disabilities graduate out of poverty, he asked what concrete measures can be put in place to ensure active ageing of older persons with disabilities given their potential but vulnerable position, both as contributors to economic development and recipients of not-so-reliable social security products.
Responding, Ms. TOMEI, stressing the need for a whole-of-Government approach, said that high-quality education is pointless if macroeconomic policies do not generate the employment opportunities that can absorb those talents and competencies. Therefore, it is crucial to develop a common vision of a new development paradigm.
Turning to the question regarding policies to enable the inclusion of people with disabilities in labour markets, she said there is no one single measure that that will do the trick. Underscoring the importance of an education system that takes into account the specific circumstances of children with disabilities, she said it is crucial to keep in mind that not all children with disabilities are born to families that are wealthy or in a position to provide adequate support. Also highlighting the issue of universal access to quality education, she said such education should pay special attention to the specific needs of children with disabilities, beginning with early childhood education.
The representative of Portugal, noting that the world is getting more globalized than ever, said that talented individuals tend to concentrate where there are more opportunities and money, which is usually in the most developed countries. Stressing the importance of creating a more sustainable world, he said it is vital to enable individuals to commit to the development of their own countries. His country developed a “return programme”, involving all sectors of the Government, which includes concrete measures such as a favourable tax regime for those who return, financial support for immigrants and credit line to support business and investment. How can the international community create an global programme that balances the rates of brain drain in order to decrease social inequality, he asked.
The representative of Malaysia recalled that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges and created inequalities, including in the labour market. In an effort to raise the standard of living, Malaysia mandated a minimum wage for workers in 2022. He stressed that strengthening social protection is key in tackling inequalities, particularly those faced by women, children, persons with disabilities, older persons and informal workers. Moreover, Malaysia is also undertaking efforts to transition workers from the informal to the formal sector. He asked the panellists what other social protective measures can be employed during future pandemics before resorting to cash transfers.
Responding, Mr. RODRÍGUEZ PELLECER drew attention to Guatemala where people migrate for economic reasons, rather than for other reasons. On the issue of circular migration, he said that talent going abroad benefits other countries as people learn different practices and technologies. Regarding protection measures before resorting to cash transfers in disasters, he underlined the importance of agriculture insurance, particularly in the context of his country, which is vulnerable to climate change. Agricultural insurance ensures aid from the State, he said, adding that people who are vulnerable — such as small-scale farmers — will not lose their entire income.
Mr. ZETZSCHE said early childhood education is one of the best ways to provide social protection for children. A well-run kindergarten and grammar school system will benefit children and take care of them, especially children in rural areas who might otherwise be working in fields. Another crucial element is a comprehensive Government strategy that spans all areas of social protection. Measuring the impact of certain policies, such as financial inclusion for example, on specific groups, such as women, indigenous people and migrants, is also important. It can help provide support for these policies.
Ms. THÉVENOT said strengthening social protection measures is very important. It is essential to develop labour market policies that let people enjoy social protection. People need social protection measures to face individual setbacks or system shocks, such as the pandemic.
Ms. SIMONETTI said that social protection floors, being universal, can complement other social insurance schemes or other employment-based social security systems to grant the maximum protection. Some countries, however, do not have means to provide full-fledged social protection systems. She reiterated the need of creating a global fund on social protection. Regarding brain-drain, she said that migration should happen “out of choice and not out of need”. States could ensure decent work and decent employment for their citizens. She also spotlighted the selective approach to migration in allowing only high qualified workers in and ensuring efficient recognition of their qualifications. Trade unions should work with local institutions and enterprises to include migrants in the labour market, she added.
Ms. TOMEI, addressing migration and social protection, said that, during the pandemic, when borders were closed, a number of countries dependent on foreign labour faced a lack of labour force, particularly during the harvesting time. The Swiss Government attempted to making this kind of work more attractive for national workers, but that was not met with much enthusiasm. National workers who went to work in the field did not have the required skills, which undermined the quality of the product. This led to a decision to allow migrants from Eastern Europe into Switzerland, she said, emphasizing that low-skilled and semi-skilled occupations, which are not in demand in certain countries, are still needed. In this regard, she suggested that policies be based on a proper assessment of what the labour market could offer and whether the needed skills could be developed or found in the respective country. Otherwise, regular pathways of migration — temporary or circular — need to be enabled to ensure a right balance, she said.