Q&A: On the 4th ILO Employment Policy Research Symposium

This year’s Employment Policy Research Symposium, to be held on 15-16 November 2021, aims to provide concrete suggestions to follow up on the ILO Global Call to Action for a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient. In this interview Aurelio Parisotto, Head of the Employment and Economic Analyses Unit in the ILO’s Employment Policy Department, talks about how the symposium will contribute to realizing this goal as we build a new and better normal.

Article | 05 November 2021
Q1. Covid-19 and megatrends impacting the future of work have created a situation in which job recovery is not just about bringing women and men back to their work but will also require major shifts to make our economies more sustainable and our societies more resilient and inclusive. How will this year’s symposium contribute to this global conversation?

The ILO Global Call to Action for a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, adopted in June 2021, has made it clear that the task ahead is to tackle the inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic while promoting successful climate, digital and demographic transitions. At this symposium, we want to review the evidence and discuss the policies that can create an enabling macroeconomic environment for inclusive economic growth and employment, foster investment and innovation in critical areas, and support workers as they move to new jobs. We hope this will result in concrete suggestions to follow up on the recommendations of the Global Call.

Q2. What factors and policies can help support recovery and accelerate decent work creation and productive employment?

Some economies are bouncing back to pre-COVID conditions thanks largely to hefty policy support and large-scale vaccination programmes. But many others are lagging behind especially in the developing world. Our latest estimates suggest that the recovery in the hours of work has stalled in all countries but more so in low- and lower-middle income countries. Even in the most successful cases, young people, women and low-skilled workers are experiencing unprecedented distress. In sum, there is a need for continued fiscal and monetary support, tailored at country level, to assist sustainable enterprises and protect workers in the transition to new jobs. National recovery packages should also include new investments in strategic sectors and economic areas with growing social demand, such as care and health services and the digital and green economies. Investments in these areas all have great potential for inclusive decent job creation.

Q3. The process of transformation and transition will create winners and losers. What are some of the challenges related to this?

The pandemic is affecting industries and occupations differently. Some sectors are recovering quickly and pockets of workers are now starting to be in demand in manufacturing, transportation or health services. On the other hand, employment prospects remain dire in accommodation and food services, retailing and personal services – or just think of international tourism. Similar misalignments may grow in the future as enterprises invest in automation and digital platforms or retain a preference for telework. We estimate net job creation from the green transition, but many jobs will disappear in the process. This will require coordinated and balanced actions on both the demand and supply sides of the labour market, or simply put, investing in both capital and people. Active labour market policies, skilling and reskilling, and hiring subsidies will have to be complemented by job creation programmes targeting the vulnerable; efforts to reach out to the inactive, the unskilled and those working informally; and comprehensive social protection.

Q4. What tools and programmes does the ILO make available to its constituents to strengthen their capacity to deliver effective recovery plans and to evaluate their impact on employment and decent work?

At the start of the pandemic, we rushed to provide our constituents with data and methodologies to assess the impact on the labour market. We remain committed to providing regular monitoring and in-depth analysis of how the recovery is taking hold on the labour market. We also have considerable experience in running employment and skills programmes in developed as well as in the poorest economies, for instance, employment-intensive investment programmes for immediate relief. We are also establishing an Employment Policy Action Facility to act as a repository that countries can conveniently access. Looking forward, we need to work with our constituents, academics and experts to develop, collect and disseminate policy knowledge on how to best deal with the challenges of moving to a better future of work - for instance, accurate assessments of the impact of public and private investment on jobs. This symposium is a step in that direction. We should also keep in mind that social dialogue is a primary “modus operandi” of the ILO. Our experience in assisting the design of national employment policies through tripartite processes can contribute to national dialogues around recovery plans that are well constructed and enjoy widespread support and buy-in.

Q5. What is the role of international cooperation?

It is critical. Ensuring that in all countries people have access to vaccines is a global priority. Equally important is the need to address the fiscal and financial constraints of developing countries. There are important initiatives underway that need to gain further momentum - on taxation, on debt relief and restructuring, on voluntary channelling of special drawing rights (SDRs) to the poorest countries, on broadening concessional lending, on maintaining orderly conditions on capital markets. The recent call by the UN Secretary-General for a Global Accelerator for Jobs and Social Protection could provide a suitable envelope, as it aims to mobilize public and private resources to create jobs and extend social protection to millions of women, men and children currently without coverage. Spending those resources effectively is also critical. Countries should take advantage of sound data and the best international knowledge available in designing, implementing and monitoring the impact of their recovery programmes on employment, inequality and the path towards a net-zero emissions future.

Q6. Can you tell us something about the participants of this symposium?

We are catering to experts from research institutions, academia and international organizations as well as practitioners and policy makers from ministries of labour, employers’ associations, trade unions, development partners and NGOs from all regions. We think such a variety of perspectives and knowledge is very important for a genuinely productive discussion that will lay a foundation for efforts to promote labour market recovery and economic transformation to a new and better normal.