The build-up to the next G20 Summit to be held in Seoul, Korea, from 11 to 12 November 2010 is well under way, yet there is little room for much optimism in light of the ongoing austerity measures being announced and implemented by a number of industrial nations. There have been widespread demonstrations, particularly in Europe, denouncing deep public sector cuts with populations angry that working people, the poor and the vulnerable should be the ones bearing the brunt of the fallout of an economic crisis brought about through the irresponsible actions of government and big business.
“The record appears to be stuck in a groove and is now becoming cracked and warped,” said Global March Chair Kailash Satyarthi. “The meeting of the G20 Finance Ministers on 23 October in Korea resulted in a declaration that promotes economic growth through job creation and talks of their support for the achievement of the MDGs, while implementing the most severe public spending cuts witnessed in recent history. How can governments talk of strengthening consumer confidence on the one hand, while taking away social protection benefits, cutting aid contributions, increasing taxation and cutting public sector employment?”
Speaking following the G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said: “G20 Finance Ministers have to look beyond the comfort zone of Wall Street and the City of London to the reality that millions of people are still losing their jobs and are now being made to suffer further austerity whilst the benefits accrue to the very banks and financiers who caused the global crisis in the first place. The world economy is not out of the woods yet, and the cuts in public expenditure being announced by many of the G20 Finance Ministers have in fact made the risk of a deeper recession more likely. The commitments made by the G20 in London and Pittsburgh to put employment at the centre of decision-making are not being met. The G20 leaders’ meeting in Seoul in November must put jobs back on the G20 agenda.”
“The interests of working people must be at the heart of planning the recovery yet through the B100 group, governments seem to be handing over structural policy to the business lobby, which represents their own interests and not those of the broader population. The G20 should be establishing a broad based task force on jobs that includes all social partners instead of developing a cosy relationship with business elites that gives them a fast track to press for more of the labour market deregulation that led to the rising inequality before the crisis,” said Mr John Evans, General Secretary of the OECD Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC).
Trade unions welcomed the commitment to increase developing country influence on decision-making at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), however the target date of January 2014 for this to be completed means that the current industrial-country bias at the IMF will remain in place for at least three more years. The Ministers’ reference to the IMF promoting “structural reform” is of great concern, given that this has always been understood to include further weakening of labour laws, such as the sweeping deregulation currently being pushed by the IMF on Romania.
The Ministers’ undertaking to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth and resilience in developing countries could be welcome if it means growth that is based on decent work and that benefits working people, however this has not been accompanied by pledges to increase development aid. Similarly, while the meeting agreed to a Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme, nothing has been done to stop financial speculation in food commodities, one of the major causes of the recent global food crisis.
On 7 September 2010, Mr HoYoung Ahn, the Korean Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Ambassador at-large for the G20, gave a presentation at the ILO on “Korea’s Priorities for the G20 Seoul Summit”. He noted that Korea has three main priorities for the Summit:
the implementation of previous commitments;
bringing new perspectives to the work of the G20;
developing inclusive outreach activities.
Among the previous commitments to be followed up is that of ensuring strong, sustainable and balanced global economic growth and maintaining economic support measures until recovery from the crisis is fully assured. However, as pointed out by the ITUC and TUAC, unless there is an immediate review of the scope and depth of austerity measures being implemented by a number of G20 countries, then it seems incongruous to be talking of economic growth without significant efforts to promote job creation.
Interestingly, among the main new perspectives being brought into the work of the G20 were those of an increasing focus on development issues and the development of global financial safety nets which echoes the work of the ILO on a social protection floor. Global March will be focusing its attention on the outcome of the G20 Summit to ensure that these new perspectives are clearly defined to facilitate advocacy work in pressing for rapid and tangible follow-up. Mr Young Ahn also noted that among proposed inclusive outreach activities was that of closer collaboration with the United Nations which would be crucial in terms of making good on its promise to focus more strongly on development issues and could lead to constructive support for the implementation of Roadmap 2016 to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.
“The G20 and the Finance Ministers cannot continue to pen the same optimistic yet empty declarations time after time,” said Global March Executive Director Nick Grisewood. “The patience of the people has come to an end and this is very clear from the widespread backlash against the austerity measures around the world. From the perspective of child labour elimination, we are very concerned at the impact of the crisis on a broad range of development programmes that will inevitably undermine efforts to protect children. We have yet to see any constructive follow-up to a roadmap to eliminate child labour that was adopted at the Hague Conference six months ago in May. Our feeling is that to retain any credibility at all, the G20 needs to listen to its critics, to the trade unions and civil society, and put people and job creation at the heart of economic recovery plans.”
Global March welcomes the news from the ITUC that a top-level international delegation of trade union leaders will press their concerns on these and other key issues in meetings with G20 leaders at the Seoul Summit.