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ILO: Orthodoxy Won’t Help 200M Unemployed

September 30, 2013
By Marc Busanich
Guy Ryder, ILO's Director General speaks at Cornell's ILR School

New York, NY—The General Assembly of the United Nations opened its regular session last week to deliberate, resolve and declare the major economic and security issues of the day.  Watch Video

Guy Ryder, director general of the International Labour Organization, the UN agency that helps create major labor standards around the world, spoke at Cornell on Friday to explain the enormous challenges working people face worldwide and some of the possible solutions to increase job growth and eliminate poverty.

Speaking at Cornell University’s ILR School, Mr. Ryder said there were some telling statistics to tell in today’s world of work.

“There’s some 200 million plus without work around the world and despite the talk of recovery, worldwide the figures for the unemployed are going up and will be with us for the foreseeable future absent major redirection of policy.”

Those fortunate to be working are often subjected to poor quality experiences of work. He noted that one-third of those who are at work in the developing world qualify as the working poor.

“Having a job doesn’t necessarily get you out of poverty,” said Ryder.

Inequality is growing in New York, and around the world.

“I know just how resonant the theme of inequality is in this city, in this country but it is everywhere in the world. A very bleak prospect you would agree,” said Ryder.

But he said there is some good news out there, without exaggerating.

“What I see happening was evident at the General Assembly, that we see the problem of joblessness is now recognized by policy makers as a key, if not the key, policy challenge of the future and beyond that, the issue of inequality,” Ryder said.

He asked why these issues are now all of sudden becoming a focus for policy makers.

“There is a real concern about social instability amongst many governments,” said Ryder as he referred to the Arab Spring as an example of how growing inequality can set off waves of demonstrations and protests.

He pointed to the recent G20 Summit in St. Petersburg as another encouraging sign.

“You’ll notice that the theme of the G20 Summit was jobs and growth. And the major part of the declaration adopted by the G20 leaders discussed jobs and growth. And even better, words we haven’t been used to seeing in international policy declarations in recent years like collective bargaining and minimum wages have made a comeback.”

While Ryder is inspired to hear policy makers talk about joblessness and inequality, he’s not so keen on some of the solutions being advocated by these same policy makers.

“The paradox is that at same time I hear national leaders regret joblessness, almost in the same breadth you hear policy recommendations that can only exacerbate that situation,” said Ryder.

He sat on a panel with an international director from the International Policy Fund during the General Assembly last week and the director said that one way to reduce joblessness in some countries in Europe is to lower their minimum wages.  

He disagrees with that policy.

“We have to find ways to moving on from recognition of the problem to design of the solutions, responses which go against orthodoxies, instincts, and ingrained reflexes over the last three decades,” Ryder said.  

Follow Marc Bussanich on Twitter marc@laborpress.org

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