THE BLOG

Is the G20 Jobs Train Ready to Leave the Station?

02/21/2013 08:07 am ET | Updated Apr 23, 2013
  • Sharan Burrow General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation

This week a group of government officials, meeting in a Moscow hotel, could set in train advice for their G20 leaders that creates jobs and restores balance to a global economy wrecked by inequality.

The soaring architecture of their hotel sits on a bend on the Moskva River, with commanding views across a city that has seen war, revolution and recovery.

The G20 Task Force on Employment has one of the most challenging jobs in the world -- a world where more than 200 million people are unemployed, the highest ever recorded level. 5.3 million more people are expected to lose their jobs this year.

Even those figures are a significant underestimate of the true depth of unemployment. Many millions of people seeking work, particularly women, are not registered. The informal economy is growing with the struggle to soak up unregistered individuals who have given up hope of secure, formal jobs.

Each year 45 million young people find a job market with no vacancies for them.

In the Chair are the Russian and Australian governments; unemployment in both countries is at a low of 5.4 percent, but the hidden threats of underemployment, precarious work and the desperation of the informal economy are serious in both.

Task forces have long been used by governments to dispense advice on the social ills of our time from crime and obesity to drugs.

Mandarins and experts on the G20 Task Force are challenged with breaking the vicious cycle of unemployment, which crosses generations and borders.

The cycle of jobless youth, uncertainty about the future, depressing consumption and weak investment and stresses on both the supply and demand side of economies are all thorns in the wheel of capitalism.

The task force is mandated to devise a plan for the governments of the world's largest economies for holistic and coordinated action to create jobs.

Co-ordination is the increasingly forgotten but central tenet of G20 action. In 2009 G20 countries committed themselves to a coordinated stimulus package.

Since then, the room for manoeuvring has diminished for a significant number of economies -- hampered by structural reform policies in Europe, which continue to cost jobs and weaken demand.

While finance ministers have taken a shredder to government coffers or kept them under lock and key, the first joint meeting of G20 Labour and Finance Ministers in July may help turn the tide and encourage finance ministers to invest in a jobs recovery.

The advice from the G20 Task Force is critical for political leaders to commit to setting a jobs target to mirror growth targets.

People in many countries are facing a social crisis that is as serious as the financial crisis. On the streets of Bulgaria, Greece, India, social unrest over high prices and low wages are unsettling governments.

There are steps by which governments can fuel growth with jobs:

Investing in and facilitating investment in infrastructure, including shifting taxation to environmental negatives to promote environmentally sustainable growth. Millennium Institute research shows 48 million new jobs could be created with investment of 2 percent of GDP each year for five years in just ten countries.

Ensuring affordable credit for small to medium enterprises, the job engines of countries. In the US alone there is an estimated $2 trillion in idle capital which could be unlocked for investment capital.

Minimum wages on which working people can live to arrest wage deflation and stabilise demand. The U.S. and Germany are both set to look again at minimum wages. Even the IMF is coming around to its social and economic sense.

Strengthening collective bargaining to reduce the gap between productivity and profit and ensure working families have the capacity to shore up local business. A society where we can close the divides that have opened up in too many countries between young and old, rural and urban, insiders and outsiders, women and men.

A youth guarantee for work, and investing in scaling up quality apprenticeships and internships to include young people in the labour force and increase skills.

Targeting cash-transfers to low-income families, particularly where government subsidies are reduced for fossil fuels. The ITUC Global poll found one in seven are working poor -- without enough money for basic essentials like housing, food and electricity.

These policy prescriptions have already been successful in different G20 economies.

The silver bullet to tackling global unemployment is co-ordinated action across our interdependent economies. The G20 were able to act together to avoid financial free fall; now they need to act together to avoid a social collapse that comes from mass unemployment and weak safety nets.

In Australia, infrastructure investments have been a core part of the Australian economy. From mining infrastructure to the latest rollout of the National Broadband Network, nation-building projects have restored confidence and created jobs.

Brazil has the lowest unemployment ever along with high wages. In 2012, wages rose by 4.1 percent thanks to a strong minimum wage. A strong economy in Brazil is people having jobs and young people engaged in education.

If each of the diverse, but advanced G20 economies could do the same, we would be one step further to creating decent jobs and growing economies.

Like Kremlinologists studying photos of Soviet parades to understand which leaders retained influence, we will all be reading between the lines of the task force statement, looking for clues that will fuel a jobs recovery.

Originally posted at Equal Times