As well as macroeconomic stimulus, a more direct, human-centred approach to boosting employment levels and quality is required as we navigate this period of uncertainty and pursue a more inclusive, sustainable world of work
The annual G20 labour and employment ministers’ meeting, hosted by Saudi Arabia on 10 September 2020 and held virtually this year, pledged that the G20 would take large-scale coordinated measures to respond to the impact of COVID-19 on labour markets and societies. The ministers reaffirmed their determination to use social dialogue and to work with other ministers to ensure policy coherence in constructing effective, inclusive and sustainable responses to the pandemic. They further committed the G20 to “adapting and improving our social protection systems to provide access to adequate social protection for all”, including women, youth, the self-employed, platform and own-account workers, and those in informal employment.
The G20 ministers’ commitments need to provide the basis for a significant employment policy drive at the G20 summit in November 2020. Clearly, the massive economic and social effects of the COVID-19 crisis are likely to persist for several years. The world is facing a major medium- to long-term disruption in the world of work that comes on top of the secular transformations already under way related to globalisation, technology, demographics and the environment. In this period in which employment and social protection are as much a macroeconomic as a social justice imperative, the role of the International Labour Organization and its mandate are more relevant than ever.
Addressing the COVID-19 crisis
The ILO’s policy framework for tackling the COVID-19 crisis highlights the importance of responses under four pillars: stimulating the economy through employment-focused macroeconomic policies; supporting enterprises, jobs and incomes through social protection and employment retention measures; protecting workers in the workplace through, inter alia, occupational safety and health measures and adapted working arrangements; and relying on social dialogue for effective and accepted solutions. International labour standards constitute the pedestal on which the four pillars rest (see figure).
Interventions by the ILO prioritise populations that are in the most vulnerable situations. Evidence shows that many of them are women, youth, workers in micro, small and medium-sized enterprises and in the informal economy, migrants and refugees.
ILO country-level policy advice is based on three goals:
Preparedness – helping countries identify potential risks for their societies and economies, focusing on workers and enterprises.
Mitigation – limiting the employment effects of the shutdown of activities and ensuring that workers and enterprises receive the protection and services they need.
Recovery and resilience – building back better to make societies and economies equipped to withstand future crises and emerge from the crisis with fairer, greener and more inclusive societies.
Priorities for G20 Riyadh
As labour income losses are massive, standing at a level of $3.5 trillion for the first nine months of 2020 alone, G20 policymakers will need to maintain support to employment and incomes well into 2021. Income support measures for hard-hit groups in vulnerable situations should remain a policy priority.
It will therefore be essential for G20 leaders to support enhanced global coordination to implement more active policies for an employment-centred crisis response and job-rich recovery, building on the declaration of the labour and employment ministers.
Fiscal stimulus packages to date have been essential in mitigating the impact of the crisis on the world of work in the advanced economies. Yet substantial gaps remain in lower-middle-income and low-income economies. Both global and national solutions are needed to bridge these gaps. Greater international solidarity to provide enhanced debt relief and stronger financial and technical assistance to developing countries can help prevent an increase in poverty and inequality and maintain progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.
the long-term view
But macroeconomic stimulus is a short-term stabilisation strategy. At the same time, a more direct, human-centred approach to boosting the level and quality of employment and achieving universal social protection is required to navigate through the structural transformations from which a fairer, more inclusive and more sustainable world of work will emerge.
The ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work provides such a human-centred approach, as the G20 labour and employment ministers recognised. It will be of major significance to the recovery if G20 leaders endorse the implementation of their ministers’ important recommendations.