Global Deal Conference

Social dialogue essential to any effective response to the pandemic says ILO Director-General

Giving communities a greater voice in their own affairs enables compromises on difficult issues, says ILO Director-General Guy Ryder’s at the Global Deal Conference on “Social Dialogue and the SDGs in the times of the COVID-19 Pandemic”

Statement | 26 June 2020
Minister, Secretary-General, Excellences,

Let me say how pleased I am and the ILO is to be a part of this Conference, as one of the partners in the Global Deal since its inception.

Colleagues, as we all know, as we speak the COVID-19 pandemic has and is turning our world upside down. And that includes of course the world of work. Tragically, many have died and millions – literally millions – of people have lost their livelihoods and their incomes. Millions more fear that if they go to work that means risking being infected by the virus. This is just a possible existential choice that so many people are having to face. It's unacceptable – but it's a reality now.

The ILO has been publishing periodically its own estimates of the employment impact of COVID-19. And the last estimate that we put out, towards the beginning of this month, made the estimate globally of the equivalent of the loss of 305 million full time jobs. That's a terrible figure. The worst news is that the estimates we are publishing early next week will make those figures even bigger; the news is getting worse, not better. And within these astonishing and dismaying totals what is also clear is that this terrible impact is falling cruelly and disproportionately on the most vulnerable in the world of work. I could speak about the impact on women; I could speak about the impact on young people.

But let me just focus on that informal economy which has already been referred to. Globally more than 6 out of 10 people still make a living in total informality. Their rights and protections are limited or nonexistent – and we calculate that 1.6 billion informal economy workers today are in imminent danger of having their livelihoods disrupted or destroyed. This is a dramatic situation and one which has led our colleagues in the World Food Programme to speak of the next pandemic being a pandemic of hunger. All of this has exposed the extraordinary, alarming inadequacy of our current social protection systems; it has laid bare the precariousness and insecurity that many millions of working people live today, pandemic or no pandemic.

These are all different reasons why I welcome the chance to join this discussion, and why I think this discussion on social dialogue is so important. Why? – because I am convinced that effective strong social dialogue is absolutely essential to any effective response to the current pandemic, for getting out of the hole the world of work is in; and also to achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which has to be our guiding star in the path out of the pandemic and towards building back better.

The fact of the matter, colleagues, is that we will come out of this pandemic with the global economy in very deep trouble. From what we know already, unemployment will be higher. Inequality will be worse. Poverty and hunger will be more acute. Public and private debt will be at record levels. And I think it's probably inevitable as well that public anger, frustration and even fear will be more widespread.

And I think we would all agree that this is a potent and dangerous cocktail which calls us to action now, against this admittedly extremely sombre backdrop. We're going to have to work together harder and smarter to protect people and to support enterprises because we will have to aim not just to build back to where we were before, but to build back towards a better, fairer, healthier and safer future of work and better societies.

I have been struck in watching demonstrations which have taken place around the world in recent weeks by young people in particular carrying placards with a simple message, “No justice – no peace.” And I think this is the Twitter age abbreviation of the hundred year old message of the ILO Constitution which states in rather more formal terms that universal and lasting peace can be established only if it's based upon social justice.

Social justice means giving communities greater voice in their own affairs. It means not only talking. It means listening to others including those we don't agree with; regarding their views as legitimate, taking them into account and committing to solving problems together. In other words it means social dialogue, which is a fundamental mechanism for building social justice. And when workers and employers’ representatives can express themselves, trust is created, the quality of decisions is improved, creativity is stimulated. Because when businesses and governments embed social dialogue into their standard operating procedures it enables negotiation and compromise on admittedly very difficult issues, just the type of hard socioeconomic issues that people face in digging ourselves out of this crisis now, as was already referred to by the OECD Secretary General.

I feel the two policy briefs that you have contain I think a very rich basis of practical real world examples of all of this proposition. The one from the Global Deal was published in April soon after the start of this crisis, and the ILO brief is a little bit more recent. But I think they are valuable because they give specific practical examples of how good social dialogue has improved policies and created trust and commitment, and confers legitimacy and acceptability of the solutions which arise.

The examples in South Africa and Austria were already mentioned. Let me just add to them by mentioning the case of the Republic of Korea, where tripartite consultation led to measures to reduce taxes on small businesses so that they could preserve jobs; the example of Denmark where businesses receive government subsidies in exchange for not dismissing workers, whilst those workers agreed to use up some of their vacation time; or the case of Spain, where agreement was reached to simplify statutory consultation processes where government also agreed to more generous income support.

These are examples that show that policy making which makes use of strong social dialogue can achieve what might otherwise not be reachable, what might not even be thinkable. And the point I want to make is that this is not philosophy, this is not theory – this is reality. Social dialogue is one of the most powerful problem-solving instruments that we have. It's a way of short circuiting crises, it's a way of creating real solutions, practical solutions. As has been said, it produces – and the evidence is there which shows it – fair, better societal outcomes.

The ILO will be carrying on with our normal job of promoting the power of social dialogue to create effective strategies that go with recovery next month, because in the coming days we're hosting a Virtual Global Summit on the impact of COVID-19 on the world of work. Our Summit will bring together government, employer and worker representatives, leaders of international organizations, and a good number of heads of state and heads of government to consider together the challenges that we face, and more importantly to put together the types of responses that we need. We're going to hear from those who are starting the recovery process, but also from those who are at a different stage in the pandemic and still deeply mired in its worst excesses.

So to close, I would like to make reference to the very obvious link between social dialogue and the SDGs, and to highlight SDG 17 which underlines the need to revitalize global partnership for sustainable development through multi stakeholder partnerships. The Global Deal itself is an excellent example of such a partnership because it brings together so many different stakeholders with different views and backgrounds to share knowledge, expertise and resources. It creates much needed space internationally. Tripartite social dialogue, this rich partnership, in turn builds understanding and consensus and encourages the innovative ideas that we need if we are indeed to achieve our development goals in these most difficult times. I thank you for this opportunity.