Ministerial Forum Speakers Call for Solidarity, Targeted Action to Tackle Pandemic Recovery, Rising Inequalities, as Social Development Commission Session Continues
Stronger cooperation, solidarity between nations, targeted action and a human-rights-based approach are essential to not only recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but necessary to tackle rising inequality, ministers and senior Government officials stressed today, as the Commission for Social Development continued its sixty-first session.
Moderated by Commission Chair Alya Ahmed Saif al-Thani (Qatar), the Ministerial Forum was held under 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”. Senior Government officials shared their national experiences and strategies, after which delegates exchanged experiences and views, as well as posing questions on inclusion, digitalization and private sector relations, as well as questions.
Mariam bint Ali bin Nasser al Misnad, Minister for Social Development and Family of Qatar, calling for a world of solidarity where everyone supports one another, underscored that development is not the responsibility of a single State. “Our world has become a village,” she stressed, pointing out that what happens in the far East is felt in the West. All societies must have equal opportunities to develop, she said, advocating for social justice and dignity for all people and societies regardless of other interests.
Echoing his colleague, Christian Guillermet-Fernández, Vice-Minister for Multilateral Affairs of Costa Rica, stressed that, without targeted action humanity is at risk. “If we really want to have a new global social impact, then we need to ensure that international fora change the approach, and we need to make sure that development is not just a dividing line between two separate worlds, but that the borders of that line do not exist — that that line disappears,” he emphasized, advocating for a human-rights-based approach with people at the heart of all actions.
In that same vein, Hanna Sarkkinen, Minister for Social Affairs and Health of Finland, pointed out that decent work, universal social protection and universal health coverage are direct and effective strategies to tackle rising inequality. Since the much-needed transformation towards post-fossil-fuel societies and a sustainable and equitable growth model will also change the world of work, people must be supported through education, reskilling and comprehensive social-protection systems. Although full employment is an important goal, all work must be decent, she emphasized, encouraging all to invest in an economy of well-being by putting people at the centre.
Focusing on national efforts, Admir Adrović, Minister for Labour and Social Welfare of Montenegro, shared that, to recover from the pandemic, his country provided funding to those of its most vulnerable, by continuing all payments for salaries, pensions and public functions. While the Russian Federation’s aggression in Ukraine has complicated his country’s overall recovery, his Government is nevertheless pursuing decent work for all by promoting dignified income and tackling women’s social exclusion, among other initiatives.
Doreen Sefuke Mwamba, Minister for Community Development and Social Services and Member of Parliament of Zambia, similarly spotlighted her Government’s response to COVID-19 which included temporary emergency social cash-transfer programmes, tax amnesty for affected businesses and the implementation of an immigration policy that recognized the rights and needs of migrants while facilitating their labour-market inclusion. For social-protection systems to be sustainable, there must be policies that can support the creation of decent jobs and enhance certain regulations, she recommended.
Anar Karimov, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of the Population of Azerbaijan, also described a wide range of national initiatives that were implemented to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, including a package of social programmes benefiting half of the population, approximately 5 million people. He also pointed out that Azerbaijan has one of the highest International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention ratification rates in the region (58 conventions), including gender-specific conventions, and that the Government is working on ratifying the ILO convention addressing occupational safety and health.
Rounding out the forum, Carmela Torres, Undersecretary for Employment and Human Resources Development at the Department of Labor and Employment of the Philippines, also highlighted national endeavours tackling the results of 2020’s hard lockdown, in which the employment level fell by 8 million workers, youth unemployment doubled and underemployment increased to 14 per cent. The Government allocated over $3 billion for the economic stimulus package and launched emergency assistance to provide financial relief for workers in the formal sector, informal sector and workers returning from overseas employment.
In the afternoon, the Commission continued its general discussion with over 20 ministers and Government officials calling attention to certain concerns as they elaborated on their experiences, shared suggestions and prescribed policies. Among other things, they stressed the need to ensure decent work, expand social-protection systems and engage the most vulnerable, among other recommendations.
Also speaking today during the general discussion were ministers, senior officials and representatives from Belarus (for the Group of Friends of the Family), Morocco, Zimbabwe, Portugal, Finland, Zambia, Sweden, Guyana, Liberia, Cameroon, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Belarus (in her national capacity), Panama, Argentina, Philippines, Russian Federation, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Jordan, Türkiye, India and Thailand. A youth delegate from Finland also spoke.
The Commission for Social Development will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 8 February, to continue its sixty-first session by holding a high-level panel discussion on the fourth review and appraisal of the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing.
The Commission for Social Development this morning held a Ministerial Forum 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 Commission Chair Alya Ahmed Saif al‑Thani (Qatar) — featured presentations by Hanna Sarkkinen, Minister for Social Affairs and Health of Finland; Admir Adrović, Minister for Labour and Social Welfare of Montenegro; Mariam bint Ali bin Nasser al Misnad, Minister for Social Development and Family of Qatar; Doreen Sefuke Mwamba, Minister for Community Development and Social Services and Member of Parliament of Zambia; Christian Guillermet-Fernández, Vice-Minister for Multilateral Affairs of Costa Rica; Anar Karimov, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of the Population of Azerbaijan; and Carmela Torres, Undersecretary for Employment and Human Resources Development at the Department of Labor and Employment of the Philippines.
Ms. SARKKINEN, underlining the mutually reinforcing interlinkage between people’s well-being and economic prosperity, pointed out that gross domestic product (GDP) alone does not provide a comprehensive picture of well-being. Decent work, universal social protection and universal health coverage are direct and effective strategies to tackle rising inequality. These protections require a broad-based, fair and effective tax system which is supported by the people. Spotlighting Finland’s approach, she encouraged States to learn from each other, strengthen taxation capacities and cooperate against global tax erosion. The much-needed transformation towards post-fossil fuel societies and a sustainable and equitable growth model will also change the world of work. As change is inevitable, people must be supported through education, reskilling and comprehensive social protection systems. Social partners, civil society and the private sector must be involved to ensure more sustainable and effective policy outcomes and fair working conditions, especially in new forms of work. Although full employment is an important goal, all work must be decent, she stressed, highlighting her Government’s education, social policy and labour market innovations and institutions; they prove that education and good governance are the best tools in fighting poverty and sub-standard working conditions caused by the informal economy. Such investments in an economy of well-being — a policy orientation and governance approach which puts people at the centre — has already paid off in terms of high rates of return, gender equality and making informal, unrecognized and unpaid care visible, she reported.
Mr. ADROVIĆ said his country was one of the first to transpose the 2030 Agenda, adopting in 2016 its national strategy for sustainable development. Addressing the challenges resulting from the pandemic, Montenegro provided additional funds for the most urgent needs and most vulnerable population, and continued all payments from public funds for salaries, pensions and the financing of all public functions, among other measures. However, the recovery was complicated by the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine, triggering a new crisis for the European and world economy, he pointed out. Nonetheless, in pursuit of decent work for all, he said that Montenegro is focused on promoting a dignified income, occupational safety and freedom of organization, among other right-to-work standards. In progress is its new “Decent Work Program” to promote decent work as a key component of development policies. Further, Montenegro has increased the minimum wage to preserve living standards. To reduce the social exclusion of women, Montenegro is also developing female entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship. Noting the impact of the pandemic on the youth, including school disruptions and loss of jobs, he said a child allowance for all children up to 18 years of age, among other measures, was introduced. In addition, an integrated social welfare information system was implemented to ensure that socially vulnerable systems have easier and quicker access to cash transfers, as well as better social and family protection services. Montenegro is also focused on public policies and reforms aimed at maintaining macroeconomic stability, strengthening international competitiveness and improving the conditions for more digital, greener, stronger and more resilient economic growth and development, he said.
Ms. AL MISNAD underscored that development is not a responsibility of a single State. What happens in the far East is felt in the West, she said, calling for a world of solidarity where everyone supports one another. Highlighting the need to protect human societies from external threats, she asserted that all societies must have equal opportunities to develop. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the essential role of solidarity at the international level to ensure full employment. Describing work as a necessary precondition for human dignity, she called for social justice and dignity for all people and societies, regardless of other interests. Pointing to her Government’s initiatives which seek to ensure productive jobs, she spotlighted a number of development projects which aim to ensure decent jobs for all. In that regard, Qatar attaches importance to the pivotal role played by migrant workers in building Qatar’s infrastructure. Moreover, she stressed the importance of creating a productive society where people do not rely on assistance. “Our world has become a village,” she said, observing that, as soon as any environmental or economic event occurs, it affects everyone.
Ms. MWAMBA said that her country’s Constitution provides adequate and equal opportunities for both genders and ethnic groups and ensures representation of persons with disabilities and youth at all levels in public service. To this end, the Government achieved a 60 per cent increase in the number of workers recruited, she said, pointing out that also in place are policy measures to provide financial accessibility and vocational training for young people, further linking them to local markets. In response to the pandemic, an exemption of paying the employees sent on forced leave and later re-employing them was introduced, also allowing them to negotiate their own rate of gratuity. She also reported that the Government implemented the temporary emergency social cash-transfer programme with bi-monthly and tri-monthly cash transfers, created a temporary COVID-19 relief fund and granted tax amnesty to businesses affected by the pandemic. To facilitate labour-marker inclusion of disadvantaged and excluded groups, the Government provided financial interventions for young people and launched an immigration policy that recognized the rights and needs of migrants. Furthermore, it established the Zambia Institute of Public Health and accelerated the transition from informal to formal economy by providing incentives, creating a Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises and encouraging entrepreneurship. To achieve sustainable social-protection systems, there is a need to put in place policies that can support creation of decent jobs and enhance certain regulations, she added.
Mr. GUILLERMET-FERNÁNDEZ, cautioning that humanity is at risk unless there is targeted action to address the world’s multidimensional crisis, called for a human-rights-based approach which puts people at the heart of actions and enables dialogue between entrepreneurs, employers, unions, academics, civil society and governments. For economic or social development to be sustainable, there must be effective enjoyment rights, such as the right to a healthy and clean environment, the free exercise of speech and people’s participation in matters affecting them. There must also be a territorial approach which combats exclusion and recognizes that poverty and inclusion are not the same in urban and rural areas, as well as a targeted approach which focuses on vulnerable groups. Offering Costa Rica’s experience over the pandemic as an example, he spotlighted its system to trace migrant workers and provide labour protection and health care; provision of State aid to people with disabilities; and a focus on gender equality within public policy. While the application of these three approaches can help countries recover and ensure better development, international actors must also be involved, he emphasized, drawing particular attention to the need for adaptation financing to address climate change. “If we really want to have a new global social impact, then we need to ensure that international fora change the approach and we need to make sure that development is not just a dividing line between two separate worlds but that the borders of that line do not exist, that that line disappears,” he said.
Mr. KARIMOV said that, due to the pandemic, the Azerbaijani economy declined by 4.3 per cent. To mitigate its impact, the Government adopted socioeconomic programmes in the amount of $3 billion, equivalent to 6 per cent of its GDP. Further, a package of social programmes was implemented to benefit half of the population, approximately 5 million people. The Government adapted its employment policies and regulations to prevent unjustified dismissals and layoffs. It also initiated wage subsidies and implemented temporary exemptions from taxes and customs duties in the private sector to support enterprises, particularly small and mid-size enterprises. To help informal workers, 600,000 people, approximately 6 per cent of the population, were paid a lump-sum cash payment, among other measures. A national employment strategy for 2019-2030 was adopted to enable better management of labour resources, employment and social protection. Azerbaijan was one of the first countries to engage with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Mainstreaming, Acceleration and Policy Support platform, focusing on an inclusive labour market, among other goals. To support the inclusion of youth in the labour market, vocational trainings are provided and more than 60 per cent of vocation training graduates are hired. Azerbaijan has one of the highest International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention ratification rates in the region (58 conventions), including gender-specific conventions, he pointed out, noting that it is also working on ratification of the ILO convention addressing occupational safety and health. To ensure affordable and universal social-protection systems, his Government introduced innovative and digital solutions, including a centralized electronic information system which automates the collection and processing of information on labour, employment, social protection and other areas, he reported.
Ms. TORRES said that the pandemic brought a spike in unemployment and a reduction in working hours in the Philippines, adding that, in 2020 — at the peak of hard lockdown — employment level fell by 8 million workers, youth unemployment doubled and underemployment increased to 14 per cent. Over 428,000 workers were displaced and 4.5 million workers experienced unemployment disruptions in 2020. To mitigate the impact of COVID-19, the Government enacted policies which implemented quarantine to control the spread of the virus and limit the movement of people. Moreover, it launched a programme to provide cash assistance to low-income households to help them cope with the impact of the pandemic. The Government allocated over $3 billion for the economic stimulus package, she recalled, adding that it also launched emergency assistance to provide financial relief for workers in the formal sector, informal sector and workers returning from overseas employment. The adjustment measures represented a safety-net programme that granted a one-time financial assistance package to workers in the formal sector. She spotlighted other initiatives, including a community-based safety-net programme which was implemented to provide temporary employment to self-employed and marginalized workers, such as food vendors. Over 658,000 workers in the formal sector received aid through the adjustment measures programme. Community-based safety-net programmes covered over 423,000 beneficiaries in the informal sector. Displaced land-based workers were provided with emergency repatriation programmes. She also drew attention to the National Employment Recovery Programme which benefited over 6.5 million individuals and underlined the importance of strategies to increase employability, expand access to employment opportunities and share labour market governance.
The floor then opened up to questions and comments from delegations and participants.
The representative of Türkiye pointed out that, on a national level, an economic reform action plan has been announced to address inequalities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and said that many employment incentives will be revised in 2023 to provide a more efficient incentives mechanism for promoting employment in the post-pandemic period. She underscored that enabling persons with disabilities to participate in employment has always been a key goal for her country, whereby a quota method has been applied. She then asked what kind of measures can be taken to provide decent work conditions while supporting an ageing population in the field of care services.
The representative of Ukraine, stressing the priority of developing modern prosthetic industries, said that she was ready to share her county’s unique experience and make it available to improve assistive technologies around the world. Pointing out that Ukraine strives to become an educational prosthetic hub in the region, she encouraged partnerships with countries focused on development of assistive technology. Although Ukraine’s system of social services is not fully formed, she said that the Government is working to improve the mechanism of procuring social services from non-governmental providers and develop a system for quality monitoring of their provisions. In this regard, she welcomed recommendations from the countries that have established such systems to share their best practices and recommendations.
The representative of Peru pointed out that States must bear in mind the important relationship between Governments and the private sector for full employment to be a key for social development. States must not only ensure that equal opportunities are provided, but must also ensure a fair redistribution of wealth. He also underscored the shared responsibility among all actors to work together to leave no one behind.
Ms. SARKKINEN, responding to questions and comments, emphasized the importance of investing in people’s work ability to ensure that they have both the health and capacity to work until retirement age and beyond. In speaking about her country’s experience, she noted the problem of age discrimination and underscored the need to eliminate all forms of discrimination in the labour market. She also stressed the importance of investing in occupational health and safety which includes mental health services and prevention. Turning to the digitalization of social services, she raised the issue of digital exclusion and highlighted the need to get people on board through training and the provision of access and devices.
Mr. ADROVIĆ, noting the solutions, concrete actions and best practices shared by delegations, said it is their duty to ensure an inclusive society and that no one is left behind. In addition to the consequences of COVID-19, other concerns include the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine and the earthquake tragedies in Türkiye and Syria, he said, underscoring the need for social policies that can respond to unpredictable events and that affect the most vulnerable and marginalized groups.
Ms. MISNAD, responding to the question posed by Türkiye’s delegate regarding work for older persons, she said Qatar adopted a programme that allows older persons to volunteer and work in the third sector, such as orphanages and reception centres. It also set up clubs in public parks where retirees can meet up and transmit their experiences and know-how to younger people — a kind of knowledge-transfer programme. Addressing a question by Peru’s representative about social justice for all, she said her country was able to offer work opportunities to many, for example, during the World Cup. It also introduced sanctions to companies which did not pay salaries to their workers. Qatar stopped construction during the pandemic, she said, underscoring the importance of protecting the health of its workers.
Ms. MWAMBA shared the experience of Zambia where a lot of older persons want to go back to work on public-service commission as they are regarded to have a lot of experience. One of the reasons they want to return to work is financial; for instance, no one is willing to look after them. To this end, Zambia enhanced mechanisms to utilize their experience and knowledge.
Mr. FERNANDEZ said that, for productive and decent employment, the international community must bear in mind the asymmetries that exist globally, nationally and locally — asymmetry in development and in terms of resources. The driving force behind full and decent employment would be education focused on training for work, he said, underlining the importance of a genuine synergy between education and work. Training means linkages with enterprises, he added. He also underscored that women need to have the same wages as men for the same work. The new paradigm cannot be delinked from the global crises faced by the world, including climate change, loss of biodiversity and financing for development, he asserted.
Mr. KARIMOV, recalling Azerbaijan’s social reforms, said that the country tried to mobilize efforts with other stakeholders to develop a common framework and align national efforts for social economic development with the Sustainable Development Goals. He pointed out that the country managed to increase the share of social expenses to 43 per cent of the annual country budget, which allowed for more digitalization. More data provides an opportunity of switching to proactive social services where a beneficiary does not need to apply for them, he added, stressing that digital solutions provide comprehensiveness and inclusivity of social services.
Ms. TORRES, addressing the care economy, underscored the importance of developing a comprehensive social-protection programme with essential health care and basic income. She spotlighted the importance of “re-tooling” and “re-skilling” women to ensure better employment opportunities. On digitalization, she pointed out the importance of focusing on digital transformation, particularly with hybrid work. She also stressed that, in regards to social responsibilities, all actors should play their roles efficiently and effectively.
PAVEL EVSEENKO (Belarus), speaking for the Group of Friends of the Family, voiced his deep concern that the contributions of the family to society and global development goals continue to be overlooked and underestimated. While the role of the family has been appreciated internationally, it has not been prioritized in development efforts despite the great potential to contribute to poverty eradication and just, stable and secure societies. Designing, implementing and monitoring family-oriented policies — in the areas of poverty eradication, full and productive employment and decent work — can enable workers with family responsibilities to exercise their right to engage, participate and advance in employment without discrimination, he pointed out. Since the family is the most important and only source of social protection for over half of the world’s population, such family-centred policies can protect and ensure that social protection and care systems are good for children, women and the economy.
A work-family balance is conducive to the well-being of all family members, the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls, he continued. Expanding flexible working conditions by using new information and communications technology, providing leave arrangements and ensuring adequate social security benefits for both women and men has a key role in supporting parents to raise the next generation of children while ensuring harmonious family relations. He expressed his hope that the United Nations will continue to play an important and active role in strengthening international cooperation on family-related issues, particularly in the areas of research, information and data compilation, analysis and dissemination. “A strong family of today is a sustainable society of tomorrow,” he stated.
AAWATIF HAYAR, Minister for Solidarity, Social Integration and Family of Morocco, in a pre-recorded message, said her country has adopted policies and pre-emptive resolutions to elaborate a new development model for a productive and diversified economy and development of human capital. In support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Morocco aims to limit negative socioeconomic consequences to the most vulnerable groups by providing all citizens with social protection and voluntary medical insurance for 22 million beneficiaries, as well as enhancing women’s rights in line human rights and gender equality principles.
To implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Morocco has an integrated policy to protect the handicapped and has an allocated a budget for 2022-20323 in this regard, she continued. It is also making its best efforts to provide opportunities, achieve social integration and help families to become resilient, she said, adding that a legal framework has been adopted to regulate social work. In addition, a new framework for investments launched in 2022 will encourage investors from different States to increase investments and create work opportunities. Morocco participates in efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, especially those aimed at fostering full and productive employment and decent work for all, she added.
PAUL MAVIMA, Minister for Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare of Zimbabwe, said employment promotion has become an essential component of his Government’s National Development Strategy to become an upper-middle-income economy by 2030. Since 2005, Zimbabwe has implemented a programme with support from the International Labour Organization (ILO) prioritizing the decent work agenda including employment promotion, social protection, social dialogue and fundamental principles and rights at work. As his country has a growing and youthful population in need of decent, productive and freely chosen employment, he spotlighted his Government’s transformation of its education system to emphasize that sector’s importance as a potent tool for addressing inequalities.
Zimbabwe has additionally developed a formalization strategy to respond to its highly informal economy, he continued. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the imposition of unilateral sanctions, the Government also introduced pro‑employment macroeconomic frameworks; a social security scheme for the informal sector; strengthened public institutions and enforcement mechanisms; increased worker representation; and employment promotion for youth, women and persons with disabilities. Among other things, the Government also widened its assistance to vulnerable populations; mainstreamed disability and human rights; and ratified key conventions on the rights of persons with disabilities. He then reiterated his Government’s openness for constructive dialogue with States that have sanctioned his country.
ANA MENDES GODINHO, Minister for Labour, Solidarity and Social Security of Portugal, associating herself with the European Union, said that global cooperation is critical for common survival. Underscoring the need of doing more preventive work, she suggested stakeholders think with a medium-long-term perspective, recalling that Portugal has just reach a medium-term agreement with social partners to ensure an increase of wages and productivity. In addition, equal opportunities and fighting inequalities are critical conditions for social cohesion, trust and peace. Turning to developing strategies, she said that efforts must stand on the following five pillars: investing in children; setting a decent work agenda; creating equal opportunities through new skills; ensuring adaptability of social models; and adopting a new social contract.
Elaborating on each pillar, she reported that Portugal has launched a Child Guarantee to ensure access to essential services and equal opportunities for all children. She also underscored the importance of empowering workers, promoting equal rights of men and women and fighting all forms of slavery. She also noted that a social contract assumes investment and accessible technology and innovation for enhancing digital and green transitions that promote equal opportunities and a better distribution of wealth. “We all need a political will and better public policies,” she stressed, pointing out that the Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection could be a powerful tool to achieve this ambition.
HANNA SARKKINEN, Minister for Social Affairs and Health of Finland, urged all to see work as a right and ensure that all work is decent. National legislation and international cooperation must ensure fair working conditions so that people have the freedom and right to organize and ensure decent work for all especially in new fields, she stressed, spotlighting her country’s economic and social policies in that regard. Since people must be well, able to work and willing to cooperate for development to be sustainable, Finland has started to use the concept “economy of well-being” and has effectively reduced socioeconomic and gender inequalities in labour markets, she reported.
Turning to the United Nations Social Summit in 2025, she encouraged an updated agenda which includes the broadest range of comprehensive social policy goals, such as poverty and inequality reduction, education, disability inclusion and fair climate transition, among others. She then highlighted population ageing as a notable challenge and called for improvements on the working and functioning capacity of that population, investments in preventative policy measures, increased civil society and voluntary activities, as well as age-friendly housing and living environments. Universal social protection systems are needed to ensure a just transition which leaves no one behind, she underscored.
HUNG LY, youth delegate of Finland, pointed out that decent work is inaccessible for many young people as status, race, gender, disabilities and low socioeconomic backgrounds are substantially decreasing opportunities for employment and education. Against the backdrop of shrinking democracies and human rights violations, there is no decent work or overcoming of inequalities without security, especially in terms of basic needs, freedom and peace. As such, labour policies must ensure that people in the most vulnerable positions are provided with better job and educational opportunities. Multilateral approaches for the non-discriminatory recognition of higher education degrees and the obstruction of labour discrimination in all forms are essential for inclusive job creation. Other needs include targeted programmes for forcibly displaced people and people with disabilities, providing safe work environments through policies and laws to protect and empower women and LBGTQI+ members and ensure that everyone is equally represented. For young people, particularly those whose well-being and mental health have been impacted by temporary employment, unpaid internships and rising inflation, Governments must ensure access to mental health services and social security.
DOREEN KANGWA SEFUKE MWAMBA, Minister for Community Development and Social Services of Zambia, associating herself with the “Group of 77” and China and the African Group, highlighted some of the social-protection interventions that her Government is implementing to address inequalities and realize the 2030 Agenda. Among them is comprehensive social security reform to address the plight of workers in both the formal and informal sectors, including a national insurance scheme to improve access to quality and affordable health care. To enhance the rights of persons with disabilities, the Government has revised its 2015 disability policy aimed at addressing the impacts of COVID-19 and unemployment. It is committed to implementing a 10 per cent quota for persons with disabilities in all types of employment, she added.
Turning to the protection of children’s rights, she said that a Children’s Code Act established regulations for foster care, adoption and childcare facilities. It serves as a basis for addressing practices such as child marriage, child labour and child abandonment. Zambia has also prioritized youth development and empowerment through skills training and disbursement of empowerment funds. A national ageing policy is aligned with the Madrid Plan of Action, as well as the African Union Policy Framework and Plan of Action on Ageing. To mitigate inequalities arising from the pandemic, disasters and other emergencies, her Government is implementing the emergency cash transfer for increased household income and food security. In addition, its cash plus initiative is targeting pregnant women and adolescents, lactating mothers and children below two years old. Vulnerable but viable farmer households are provided with farming inputs and services to enhance their food security, she added.
CAMILLA WALTERSSON-GRÖNVALL, Minister for Social Services of Sweden, associating herself with the European Union, said achieving the Sustainable Development Goals will require the promotion of human rights, human development, social cohesion and equality, along with specific measures to protect those in particularly vulnerable situations. Citing the climate crisis, democratic backsliding and repeated human rights abuses — all of which are affecting the lives of millions of people around the globe — she said the Russian Federation’s war of aggression against Ukraine is adding to that enormous suffering.
She went on to say that social services constitute the ultimate safety net in Sweden, and include — but are not limited to — providing temporary financial support to those with no other financial means, as well as services aimed at preventing and responding to social marginalization and risks and violations of violence and abuse. The huge influx of refugees into Europe, many of them young girls and boys, has made protecting the most vulnerable even more challenging. Noting that children and young people have suffered most from the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said Sweden chose to keep preschools and compulsory schools open throughout the pandemic, in line with the child’s right to education. “In times of crises, protecting the rights of every human being becomes more important than ever,” she said.
VINDHYA PERSAUD, Minister for Human Services and Social Security of Guyana, pointed out various online and in-person Governmental programmes, which are free and accessible to urban, rural and hinterland communities. Guyana’s Online Academy of Learning programme provides online scholarships for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and encourages free remedial training for those who dropped out of school or require additional credentials to access jobs. Turning to the Board of Industrial Training — one of the country’s largest resourced competency‑based vocational training programmes, she noted that it offers training in multiple disciplines for persons of all age categories with the aim of increasing employment chances in the areas of high demand.
Flagship programmes tackling food security and involving youth constitute an integral part of ensuring stability in the face of climate change and global crises, she reported, noting that the Government is investing in the Youth Agriculture and Innovation Entrepreneurship Programme to empower young people and promoted Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy. Further, the Women’s Innovation and Investment Network is the fastest-growing programme to empower financial training and employment opportunities for women of all ages. As well, the Government has provided free business classes to increase business literacy, encourage entrepreneurship and facilitate advertising for women-owned businesses; allocated financial resources to enhance livelihood of thousands of households; and launched a part-time employment programme to generate jobs with decent wages for unskilled workers in the public sector. Over two years, more than 6,000 women have been trained, she said, noting that out of 50 per cent of those trained, 48 per cent are employed and 25 per cent own a business.
WILLIAMETTA E. SAYDEE-TARR, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Liberia, said that the Government’s national development plan — the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development — aspires to make Liberia a middle-income country by 2030. By spending $12.8 million on development projects through domestic resource mobilization, the Government provided housing for low-income earners and established several sport facilities in poverty-stricken communalities. Liberia received a grant of $10 million to increase access to income-earning opportunities for the vulnerable, launching a “Recovery of Economic Activity for Liberian Informal Sector Unemployment” project that provides grant support to vulnerable households to revive or start small businesses. As part of public service reforms, Liberia also initiated changes of the central Government payroll and pension systems, making a payroll more auditable and adjustable through digitalization.
Having established paygrades for all positions, the Government adjusted the gross salary of 28,000 civil servants, she reported, adding that it has also instituted a Legal Power of Attorney scheme and Quick Cash Credit scheme with a view of expanding it to rural areas. In 2022, the country launched the Accelerated Community Development Programme, implemented in partnership with the United Nations Development Fund, which aims to tackle unemployment in the poorest rural and urban communities by investing in construction of agricultural feeder roads, water and irrigation systems, hydro-power plants and sanitation facilities. In addition, the Government secured $44.6 million from the World Bank for the Liberia Women Empowerment Project geared towards addressing inequalities and gender-based violence in 750 communities and targeting 258 beneficiaries.
PAULINE IRÈNE NGUENE, Minister for Social Affairs of Cameroon, said her Government adopted social-protection measures to support macroeconomic resilience, as well as certain populations, especially those most vulnerable. Employment measures taken are focused on six areas: public investment projects; improvement of jobs and revenues in rural environments; migration from the informal to formal economy; creation and maintenance of jobs in large private sector companies; setting up training for employment; and regulation of the labour market. To improve the living conditions of the most vulnerable, her Government is aiming to increase and diversify the flow of professional and technical information, strengthen and use high-intensity labour approaches and put in place community-level projects to encourage the social and economic insertion.
Despite these initiatives for productive employment and decent work, her country continues to face a number of challenges, she reported. Noting that 40 per cent of its population are young people, she said many of them are seeking jobs. As such, the Government has committed to providing training programmes, including for workers in the informal sectors. A number of efforts have also been undertaken outside of Cameroon to benefit socially vulnerable people, she said, adding that such programmes depend on sound international partners and are sustained by innovative financing.
HESSA BINT ESSA BUHUMAID, Minister for Community Development of the United Arab Emirates, pointed out that her Government has provided pre-emptive programmes and strategic performance indicators for the post-pandemic stage, while empowering and engaging certain social groups and segments. Underscoring that families, the elderly and people with disabilities should not only receive priority support, but also be engaged in designing and implementing polices, she spotlighted the need for developing a strategic vision to engage such people on legislative grounds. Detailing the national polices for empowering people with disabilities, she recalled that numerous consultations were held, including with groups representing people with disabilities and care providers, to ensure that policy included an effective and implementable action plan.
She went on to say that, through the United Arab Emirates Centennial Plan 2071, the country is developing a road map to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals with four key pillars: a Government with a clear outlook for the future; education for the future; diverse knowledge-based economy; and a more coherent fabric of society. Noting that the Government introduced a number of quick-fixes and pre-emptive models of dealing with community needs, she recalled the crisis caused by the unprecedented rainfall in 2022 and the swift support provided by the Government. She went on to outline three key pillars of addressing the crisis, including creating command centres, providing temporary alternative shelters and cooperating with volunteers.
FLORENCE BORE (Kenya), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, the African Group and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said her country’s social development sector is anchored by the Constitutional Bill of Rights, as well as the Social Pillar of “Kenya Vision 2030”. Agreeing with other speakers that the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected the world of work — threatening public health and adversely affecting the economic and social well-being of millions — she spotlighted devastating impacts on labour markets, production and consumption, including trade, foreign direct investment and global supply chains. At the onset of the pandemic, Kenya implemented nationwide restrictive measures to contain the virus and created the National Emergency Response Committee to provide direction and help return to normalcy. Outlining a range of other policy interventions, she said the Kenyan National Safety Net Programme has increased resilience among the poor and vulnerable, including through cash transfers to orphans, vulnerable children, older persons and persons with disabilities. Meanwhile, the Social Economic Inclusion Project has been instrumental in overcoming inequalities, and an Enhanced Social Registry helps connect vulnerable individuals to social, economic and employment opportunities.
IRINA KOSTEVICH, Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Belarus, in a pre-recorded message, said that, in 2022, in order to reduce the impact of the pandemic, her Government implemented a number of systemic measures. Those who were underemployed or unemployed temporarily were given earnings top-ups; companies were granted tax and property breaks; and workers on sick leave kept their social benefits. These systemic measures resulted in unemployment at just 4 per cent in 2022 and no decrease in income. A key trend during the pandemic was the new hybrid flexible form of employment. The pandemic served as a trigger to digitalization and hastened the shift to remote working. After the end of the pandemic, remote work remained relevant, with workers giving positive feedback and taking up remote work actively. Belarus has also increased the number of jobs that can be performed remotely.
She also highlighted national legislation that increased schedule variability for workers to reduce their workday by one hour. As a result, women’s participation in workforce remains high, on par with that of men — over 86 per cent. Because Belarus is working towards preventing occupational injuries, the number of people injured in the workforce was reduced by 16 per cent. Further, workers are motivated to undergo regular medical check-ups. The Government is paying particular attention to supporting the long-term unemployed young people and people with disabilities, she noted, citing the low level of unemployment in her country — 3.5 per cent. She stressed the importance of life‑long learning and new forms of professional training across various sectors. However, she also voiced concerns over the illegal practice of exerting pressure by sanctions, which have disastrous consequences in various regions and a corrosive impact on labour relations.
MARIA INÉS CASTILLO, Minister for Social Development of Panama, affirmed that more people in decent jobs ultimately means stronger and more inclusive economic growth. However, countries are facing a very complex economic and social panorama, with strong inflationary pressures, low job creation, lower investment and growing social demands. The Ministry of Social Development scaled up Family Networks, a productive inclusion pilot in 2021, as a complement to households already beneficiaries of conditional cash-transfer programmes. Panama has thereby strengthened the human, social and productive capacities of families, while promoting the economic and social empowerment of women.
She went on to say that the programme has been implemented at the national level, in 10 provinces and four indigenous regions, benefiting more than 7,000 families, mostly headed by women. She further noted that the World Bank supported an impact evaluation on the pilot project to identify positive and creditable results related to an improvement in agricultural yield and production. Similarly, the Ministry of Labour works to protect the integrity of job seekers and promote the labour inclusion of vulnerable populations — such as the Public Policy for Employability and Labour Insertion of young people and women in conditions of socioeconomic vulnerability, expected to benefit more than 86,000 women between now and 2030, she said.
Ms. TITO (Argentina) stressed: “Social development for our people should be a fundamental part of our public policy,” adding that the pandemic clearly showed the vital role of the State in that regard. It also deepened the debt levels of economies of not just the neediest countries, but also middle-income countries, including her own, making them more vulnerable to external shocks. They are countries that are always being treated as if they are developed, although they have historical structural gaps in areas of infrastructure, technology infrastructure, technology and long-term financing capabilities, she pointed out. In that regard, she underscored the importance of advancing reforms in the current international financial architecture to address issues related to the restructuring of sovereign debts, as well as the expansion and distribution of special drawing rights of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is time to reduce inequalities between and within countries through international coordination and cooperation, she urged, stressing that solutions to global crises cannot be based on individual efforts. Member States must consolidate the Commission for Social Development as a “factory of initiatives” to make progress possible towards inclusive, equitable and sustainable development.
CARMELA I. TORRES (Philippines) said the world is currently facing a rise in inequality due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts. In the Philippines, there have been serious consequences on jobs and the labour market, characterized by a spike in unemployment, a dramatic fall in the labour force participation and a large swell in the fraction of workers employed but absent from work. Those trends had a disproportionately negative impact on the agricultural sector and the wholesale and retail trades, as well as the transportation and storage industries. More than 420,000 workers were displaced nationwide and another 4.5 million experienced disruptions. Detailing some of the Government’s quick responses to those challenges, she said it enacted economic stimulus measures and programmes to provide financial assistance to workers. Calling broadly for a labour market that is more inclusive, equitable and flexible, she said her Government is also working towards social protection systems that are universal, all-encompassing and long-term, and which can accommodate varying degrees of socioeconomic change.
ALEXEY VOVCHENKO, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation, said that a tried-and-true way of reducing inequality is to ensure full and productive employment and decent work for all. In that regard, social protection is the bedrock for ensuring decent jobs. To maintain stability on the labour market in 2022, the Russian Federation took additional steps to ease tensions by maintaining job potential and safeguarding jobs of candidates and workers at risk of being laid off. As part of the federal-level project supporting employment and the national demography project, educational programmes were run in 2022 across 222 professions with over 1,500 professional organizations involved. In the constituent entities of the Russian Federation, job-seeker assistance is provided through employment centres. Acknowledging that youth unemployment remains a problem, he recalled that, in 2021, the Government adopted a long-term programme to tackle this issue by helping young people unlock their professional, labour and entrepreneurial potential. To improve the employment of persons with disabilities, a 2022-2024 plan of activities was created with consequent legislation amendments, he said, pointing out that his Government changed the rules on how employers can comply with respective quotas and broadened employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. In this regard, a single digital platform covering labour relations and employment of people with disabilities is available.
CHRISTIAN GUILLERMET-FERNÁNDEZ, Deputy Minister for Multilateral Affairs of Costa Rica, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, Group of Friends of Older Persons and the Core Group of the LGBTIQ+, said the COVID-19 pandemic has taught the world the value of cooperation and solidarity, adding that the multidimensional crisis exacerbated by the pandemic is not an issue that can be resolved by a single country. “We cannot continue doing the same thing, expecting different results,” he declared. He highlighted the development of a national development plan in Costa Rica and public investment in 2023-2026 which prioritizes a human rights approach in all public policies. It pays special attention to the needs of Costa Rican people who were the worst hit by the pandemic.
In rural and coastal areas of the country, where the income is lower, even more economy recovery assistance is needed, he said, calling for a rights-based and territorial approach. Taking into account the domino effect in combating inequality, the focus must be on vulnerable populations, including the migrant population. Given the pandemic and closing of borders for health reasons, Costa Rica faced a huge challenge: the lack of labour. To this end, the Government created a system for labour migration, with the aim to guarantee decent working conditions for foreign workers. It is an approach of bringing workers from abroad and incorporating them into the Costa Rica labour market with health-care guarantees. Similarly, the labour rights of indigenous people in Panama are respected. Turning to gender equality, he stressed the importance of making sure that women’s labour is recognized and formalized.
ASSEGID YIMENU, State Minister, Ministry of Labour and Skills of Ethiopia, associating himself with the African Group and the Group of 77 and China, noted that the Horn of African region is experiencing the worst drought in four decades, disrupting agricultural production and driving the death of millions of livestock and displacement of people. Ethiopia has endured several particularly devastating years due to conflict, the pandemic and climate change, but has managed to continue to significantly address structural deficiencies in labour market institutions and ensure the creation of full and productive employment and decent work. Ethiopia continues to pursue an inclusive and pro-poor growth policy to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development and resilience, informed by the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the Sustainable Development Goals and other relevant regional and international commitments, including the Copenhagen Declaration, he said.
The Ten-Year Development Plan is currently being implemented and envisages to reduce unemployment rate by 1 per cent each year until the year 2030, he continued. He also spotlighted initiatives, including the One-Stop Public Employment Service Centres to encourage grass-roots-level employment and job creation, and a digitally empowered labour market information system. Further efforts include keeping records of over 6 million (36 per cent female) urban and rural unemployed and jobless citizens toward data-driven enhancement of decent jobs and overcoming inequalities in Ethiopia. During the last six months alone, he noted 1.5 million new jobs have been created, and his Government is also working to make overseas labour deployment services accessible, effective and productive by automating the service, modernizing workflow, skilling migrants and improving stakeholders’ collaboration.
BARQ AL-DMOUR, Secretary General, Ministry of Social Development of Jordan, noted that, while many countries have tried to improve their social-protection systems, the pandemic has made it evident that they need to do more. The most vulnerable groups were informal workers, he said, adding that even those that were not poor prior to the crisis lost their sources of income as a result of falling sick or because of lockdown measures. Many Governments failed to locate accurate data and information about households in this segment of society, he said, stressing the need to improve their resilience.
“We have to ensure that informal works workers receive social protections that are not based on social security subscriptions,” he continued, adding that the pandemic proved that resilience and responsiveness to shocks is of paramount importance. His country is reforming its social-protection schemes by broadening the range of coverage and providing targeted cash assistance. It is also introducing information-management systems and registers as it expands its safety nets. There are no quick fixes or one-size-fits-all solutions, he stressed, adding that every country has its own identity and fiscal space to deal with. Jordan will continue to work to create a uniform social protection regime that is responsive and inclusive.
Ms. CECELI (Türkiye) noted that, around the world, Sustainable Development Goal 1 on poverty eradication and Goal 2 on zero hunger remains out of reach. Current global challenges remind the international community of the urgent need for a green transition and sustainable agriculture. In light of this, she called for an accelerated switch to renewables, as well as dialogue and cooperation towards a greener economy with technology and digitalization at its heart. As economic recovery efforts should facilitate a systemic shift towards a more inclusive and sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet, achieving decent work and economic growth — a key to realizing interconnected Global Goals — will be important for the reduction of global inequalities. Economic, social and environmental recovery requires decent work to sustain the lives of individuals and their families in order to reduce and eventually eliminate poverty, she explained. To steer the world back on track towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, there must be political commitment and extraordinary international support for low- and middle-income countries and vulnerable groups which are disproportionately bearing the brunt of COVID-19’s socioeconomic impacts. She then spotlighted her country’s efforts in that regard and its emphasis on employment, social protection and the strengthening of least developed countries’ science, technology and innovation capacities.
RUCHIRA KAMBOJ (India), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, spotlighted the need to re-energize global efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda, and to focus on building back better and sustaining socioeconomic progress. The motto of India’s G20 presidency is “One Earth, One Family, One Future”, which reflects the interdependence among the Group’s member States to achieve their collective developmental goals. India’s own social development agenda focuses on alleviation of poverty, providing better health services, promoting agricultural reforms, ensuring targeted subsidies, providing time-bound delivery of Government services and deploying citizen-centric technology. India’s progress in the Sustainable Development Goals is crucial for the world, as the country is home to about 17 per cent of the world’s population. Driven by a rights-based approach, the country has adopted social safety and other measures for economic well-being and ensuring livelihoods. Today, some 331 million more people in the country have gained access to improved sanitation, 233 million more have obtained access to clean cooking fuel, health coverage programmes reach over 500 million people and under-five mortality has dropped by 16 per cent. India is also implementing the world’s largest digitally operated, cashless and paperless need-based comprehensive health-care programme, she said.
SARANPAT ANUMATRAJKIJ, Director General Ministry of Social Development and Human Security of Thailand, said her country has launched and implemented projects to accelerate sustainable and inclusive pandemic recovery, including health security, better public service delivery and social equality. During the pandemic in 2020, her country enlarged its social safety nets and provided financial and non-financial support to those affected by unemployment or business closure. Detailing Thailand’s enhanced social welfare for children and vulnerable populations to name a few, she also highlighted her country’s promotion of digital skills and the use of technology, especially for persons with disabilities, women entrepreneurs, people living in remote areas and youth.
Moreover, in 2022, a total of 67,000 persons with disabilities were employed in public and private organizations, she continued. At the same time, 15,000 individuals were supported by the Fund for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities to start their own businesses or small enterprises. Thailand is estimated to become a complete-aged society by 2028, she pointed out, adding that the Government has announced the third national plan on the elderly to improve the quality of life of older persons in the economic, environmental, health and social spheres. These encompass the concept of “active ageing” which aims to encourage older persons to be part of the country’s development, she said.