Ecosoc: Norway's opening statement

7/3/2012 // Norway's Minister for International Development, Mr. Heikki Holmås, presented Norway's statement during the High-Level segment of the UN Economic and Social Council. The debate focused on the global jobs crisis and the search for ways to stimulate the creation of decent and sustainable employment.

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The current financial crisis that's led to en unemployment crisis makes it vital to focus on inclusive and job-led growth. In the face of increased inequality and jobless growth, we need just and sustainable economic and social development more than ever.

We must balance socio-economic growth with responsible environmental stewardship. The transition to a green and inclusive economy also presents opportunities for generating new jobs.
A coherent international response is crucial when addressing the jobs crisis. I have been pleased to see the role played by the ILO, and it is encouraging to see that international institutions are willing and able to work together.

I am worried about some of the policies being implemented.

When I look at youth unemployment-figures of 30-50% in European countries and similarly high unemployment rates in North African countries prior to the Arab spring I see the lost hopes of the young generation. From our experience many are permanently excluded from the labor marked. It’s a tragedy for the individuals and a terrible loss to the economy.

We tried austerity policies in the aftermath of the first World War. History deemed it no success.

At the domestic level, it is important to formulate a coherent and integrated development agenda. Strengthening skills, especially for the young, should be a core priority. Full employment must be the goal, while at the same time respecting fundamental principles and rights at work. The agenda should also include efforts to bring informal enterprises and workers into the formal economy. The majority of informal workers are women. Similarly, it should include policies for revenue mobilization and redistribution of wealth through taxation.

On the basis of Norway’s experience and long-standing policy priorities, I would like to make three broad points:

First, I would like to highlight the role of strong organizations, be it of small scale farmers, workers in the formal or informal sector or of employers. Development is strong in many of the world’s low and middle income countries, but in many countries money is going oversees or to the few instead of the many, thus not contributing to reduced poverty.

Key to fighting poverty and creating a stronger service sector and thereby development in a country is letting the revenues stay in a country. This can only be achieved by taxes and wages. Good and responsible tripartite dialogue can be a strong contributor to this goal.
Creating good jobs must be at the core of any economic reform policy and any inclusive growth strategy. Social dialogue is key to ensuring legitimacy, participation and ultimately the success of these policies.

Social dialogue contributes to a greater level of social cohesion and trust between people in the county. During challenging times or difficult transition periods it enhances a society’s ability to restructure and adapt, on the one hand by promoting job-led growth, development and stability, and on the other by distributing advantages and disadvantages more evenly and fairly. It is also important to recall that the tripartite system was borne out of and remains particularly important during times of crisis.

This brings me to my second point, which is the importance of upholding established international standards.

In the face of increased and persistent unemployment, we must avoid a global race to the bottom with deteriorating working conditions, a lowering of wages, weakened social protection and an undermining of rights. We must insist on upholding standards and rights and on improving them whenever possible. They must guide us as we develop policies to boost output, create good jobs and share the profits in a fair way.

Thirdly, I would like to emphasize the importance of a strong gender equality agenda.
Women make up half of the world’s pool of talent, and their participation in the labor market is essential for mobilizing the productive capacity of any country. Gender equality and gender responsive policies are thus particularly important when addressing the jobs crisis, also in the agricultural sector.

In fact, the effort to improve the situation of women, who often face discrimination in the labor market and often bear the lion’s share of family caregiving when times are tough, must be strengthened during the current crisis. Antidiscrimination both in legislation and in practice, fundamental rights for women bearing child, women with young children, public planned child care, opportunities for sick leave, but also fundamental access to family planning and other sexual and reproductive rights. All these should be promoted in national policies.

This is a time not to pull back. Rather, it is the time to move the gender agenda forward, quite simply because it is both right and smart economics.

Efforts to create decent work are not an obstacle to competitiveness and progress. On the contrary, when carefully planned and executed, policies to create decent work enhance competitiveness, primarily because they maximize the potential of the individual woman and man and the community, but also because higher wages works as an incentive for the employer to invest in equipment that increase the output of the employee. They are important tools for wealth redistribution, but also tools for wealth creation and drivers of economic and social progress. An economic growth strategy which has the creation of good jobs with a continuous strengthening of the organizations, and fair distribution at its core is clearly also good development policy.

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