Published On: Fri, Dec 8th, 2017

ILO: Many are being left behind in the labour markets of Latin America and the Caribbean

ILOBRIDGETOWN - Regional Director of the ILO, José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, warned that the labour markets of Latin America and the Caribbean “are lagging behind in the 21st Century”,  and made an urgent call to deal with existing labour gaps and discriminations, while speaking at the inter-American meeting which ends today in the Barbadian capital.

The XX Inter-American Conference of Ministers of Labor (IACML) convened by the Organization of American States (OAS) on Thursday and Friday in Bridgetown, brought together representatives of Ministries of countries from across the Americas, as well as delegates from employers’ and workers’ organizations.

The IACML, which takes place every two years, was officially opened on Thursday evening by the Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, the Minister of Labour, Social Security and Human Resource Development of Barbados, Esther Byer-Suckoo, who also chaired this inter-American conference, and the Regional Director of the ILO.

“This has not been a good era for labour markets of the region”, Salazar warned delegates as he referred to the two-year period since the last ICML was hosted in Mexico to the current meeting this week in Barbados. “It has been a period of accumulated deterioration in the majority of labour and social indicators of the region, which has not ceased to deepen”.

He suggested that while the situation is not homogenous, there are countries in the region with indicators of diverse economic behaviours and with differences in employment indicators, “generally speaking the picture painted by current employment statistics in the region is not reassuring”.

The ILO Regional Director reminded that through a period of slow-down including economic contraction, the region began this year with a high unemployment rate of 8.1 per cent on average, which means that 25 million persons are seeking jobs without necessarily finding any, and he warned that “this rate will be even higher at the end of 2017”.

In the context of the analysis presented in his discourse to the delegates of the IACML, Salazar reminded that 135 million persons, almost half of the workforce, is employed in informal conditions, and that the youth unemployment rate has increased even more than adult unemployment, and towards the end of 2017, “one in every five youths of working age is seeking employment yet cannot find work”.

Additionally, he said “the labour markets continue to be heavily segregated” and highlighted existing gender inequalities since “women continue to be worse off than men in all indicators”, and likewise indigenous communities are victims of social exclusion “associated with a disadvantageous productive inclusion in the labour market”.

Salazar said it is urgent to take up “the key challenge” of bridging the gaps in the labour market, “not only to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth but for the social cohesion and social pacts of the region from now to 2030”.

In his address, he summarized a few challenges: the large productivity gaps in comparison with other regions and also those within the region where a great portion of inequality is deep-rooted; access to education and high quality vocational training that is pertinent; access to basic and social infrastructure; and those existing gaps with regard to the respect and application of labour laws.

In a scenario of “many labour challenges”, the region is also facing a future in which the world of work is becoming robotized, automated, virtualized, decarbonized, outsourced and disintermediated”, while simultaneously confronting an accelerated process of ageing, changes in business models and in recruitment practices.

The ILO representative emphasized that in order to forge a better future of work it is important that the countries apply productive development policies “to induce more sustained growth patterns that are inclusive and sustainable”.

At the same time he considers it essential to rely on strategies to improve education and vocational training, in order to boost compliance with international labour standards and in this way confront labour inequality, and also to foster “solid social dialogue processes”.

The IACML concludes this Friday in Barbados with the adoption of a Declaration and Plan of Action.

The Conference is considered as a crucial forum for political discussion and decision-making on priorities and actions to be taken in labour matters at the hemispheric level.  This Conference began more than 50 years ago and has become the oldest sectoral conference of the Organization of American States (OAS).

During the XX IACML the ILO Regional Director had the opportunity to hold meetings with Ministers of Labour of different Inter-American countries, as well as representatives of CEATAL which brings together representatives of workers’ organizations and COSATE which unites workers’ organizations.

The Trade Union Technical Advisory Council (COSATE) and the Business Technical Advisory Committee on Labour Matters (CEATAL) are two consultative bodies of the IACML.

The ILO informed that on 18 December updated statistical information on the region’s labour market will be presented when its annual Labour Outlook report 2017 is launched in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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