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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Upcoming Meeting of G-20 Labor and Employment Ministers

FPC Briefing
Hilda Solis
Secretary of Labor
Sandra Polaski, Deputy Under Secretary for International Labor Affairs
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
April 19, 2010


Date: 04/19/2010 Location: Washington D.C. Description: Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Sandra Polaski, Deputy Under Secretary for International Labor Affairs, briefs on the upcoming meeting of G-20 Labor and Employment ministers at the Washington FPC on April 19, 2010. - State Dept Image

Video

11:00 A.M. EDT

MODERATOR: Good morning. Welcome to the Foreign Press Center. We are very honored today to have the Secretary of Labor, Ms. Hilda Solis, with us to speak to you about the upcoming meeting of the G-20 summit labor ministers.

Thank you. Secretary Solis.

SECRETARY SOLIS: Thank you, good morning, and buenos dias. I’d like to thank all of you for joining us here today. Tomorrow, as you know, I will be hosting the first-ever historic meeting of the employment and labor ministers of the G-20. This group makes up the 20 largest economies of the world. At the G-20 summit held last September in Pittsburgh, President Barack Obama proposed to other leaders that I should host this meeting here in Washington, D.C. to ensure that employment and the challenges that the economic crisis is posing for working families is kept front and center in our mission.

The other leaders agreed and declared we cannot rest until the global economy is restored to full health and hardworking families the world over can find decent jobs. This meeting, as you know, comes at a time of tremendous challenge for workers in the G-20 countries. The prompt actions of many of our governments last year prevented a true global depression. The International Labor Organization, the ILO, estimates that 20 million jobs were saved or created by collective stimulus plans and our social safety nets in 2009 and 2010.

However, as you know, we still have high, unacceptable rates of unemployment in our own country and across the globe. And we still need to create more jobs. The G-20 leaders gave us a broad mandate. Their statement directs us to do the following: number one, assess the evolving employment situation; number two, ask the International Labor Organization and OECD to prepare an analysis of the impact of the policies already adopted; third, report on whether further job creation measures are desirable; fourth, consider improvements to social protection programs such as unemployment insurance; five, develop a strategy to maximize skill development for our workers for the changing jobs of the future, and; six, consider ways to improve the quality as well as the quantity of jobs.

At the meeting, I will take up this mandate along with the other G-20 ministers with the hope to accomplish two main goals. The first is to prepare a set of recommendations for measures that countries should consider in order to tackle the job crisis. These measures will help set the stage for a sustainable, balanced recovery that creates good jobs for all those who want to work or who are underemployed. The second goal is to develop an understanding among the ministers on the range of labor market conditions and challenges faced by the G-20 countries in order to build a foundation for future discussion and cooperation.

So we can, in fact, learn from each other’s experiences. Indeed, we have a historic opportunity to come up with a concrete set of recommendations. These recommendations and strategies will help us make greater progress on employment in each of our countries and at the global level.

As United States Secretary of Labor, I have made good jobs for everyone our overarching objective at the Department of Labor. Of course, I’m thinking about American workers as well as Labor Secretary. But I also recognize that in order to build a foundation for a sustained recovery of the global economy that we will provide the economic security we seek, we must, in fact, together work to create strong job growth to ensure that our own future prosperity as well as that of workers around the world occurs. My Under Secretary for the Bureau of International Labor Affairs Sandra Polaski, who has been organizing this event, has joined me today and can also provide you with additional details.

Before I take any questions, I do want to make a statement briefly in Spanish. (Speaking in Spanish.)

MODERATOR: Before you ask your question, would you please identify yourself and the media?

QUESTION: Andrew Beatty with the AFP.

MODERATOR: Wait for the microphone.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry, my apology. Andrew Beatty with the AFP news agency. Could you tell us a little bit about the participation in this summit? I mean, are people – are European ministers going to be able to arrive, for example?

SECRETARY SOLIS: Well, in fact, we are going to have, I think, some good representation. We do know that there are a few labor ministers that couldn’t make it, obviously, because of the volcanic eruption. But I will let Sandra Polaski give you the details as to who is coming and who isn’t.

MS. POLASKI: Yes. We will still have the meeting. We’ll have high-level representation from all of the G-20 countries. However, unfortunately, we will not be joined by the labor ministers of France, Germany, the UK, and the European Commission, because, as you can see the map in your minds, those are all Northern European capitals and those airports have been closed down for days and will apparently continue to be closed down through today. Some of them may try to come tomorrow if the airports open, at least for the final day of the meeting.

However, all of the countries that are not able to make it either had already sent senior officials who were in place – vice ministers or under secretaries who carry the relevant portfolios – and in other cases, they are sending their ambassador to the U.S. to represent the country.

QUESTION: Thank you. I am Xiong Min with 21st Century Business Herald. This is a Chinese newspaper in China. Can you be more specific about certain recommendations you’re working on over the meeting? And I notice some American scholars earlier mentioned that maybe this meeting is considering raising the international labor standard to the developing countries. Is this an issue? Can you tell us more about that?

MS. POLASKI: Well, the recommendations themselves will be worked out by the ministers over the coming two days. We will have a press conference at 3:30 on Wednesday afternoon when the recommendations have been agreed and finalized, and we will then actually present those detailed recommendations to the media. But it would be a bit premature for me to tell you what they are before the ministers have actually meet and agree on them.

I think I might have seen some of the articles that were raised in countries about whether this was a meeting to raise international labor standard. In terms of the way the question was phrased in those opinion columns, the answer is no, this is not a meeting to negotiate international labor conventions or labor standards. That is done at the International Labor Organization once a year when they meet in a conference in Geneva, and that is an ongoing process that all of the G-20 countries, by the way, normally participate in and have participated in for a very long time.

This is not a meeting to negotiate labor standards; however, it is a meeting for the ministers to discuss, among other topics, how they can be sure that the crisis does not lead to a lowering of working conditions, how the crisis does not lead to violations of labor laws, does not lead to violations of minimum wage laws, in any of our countries. So in that sense, yes, the ministers will be very concerned, because in a situation where there is a lot of unemployment, there is a natural tendency for at least some to take advantage of that --to ignore labor laws or push down labor standards. And the ministers will very much be interested not only in creating more jobs, but as Secretary Solis said, in creating more good jobs.

SECRETARY SOLIS: I would just like to add that, as kind of a pre-meeting that we have also planned is we’ll be meeting with several large business corporations that represent different segments of the global community and we have also invited various labor representatives from across the countries as well. So I’m planning on meeting with them later this afternoon to have a discussion to hear what their concerns and challenges are and then, hopefully, have a fuller opportunity to really begin the process tomorrow formally with the G-20 ministers to begin to talk about how we begin this recovery and continued monitoring of the situation across the world.

We’re all very concerned about the crisis. We continue here in the United States to see record numbers of unemployment. We know that right now is not the time to move back from what the stimulus and the recovery act have actually done. We know that other countries are in the same predicament and some are contemplating that, but this is an opportunity for us to talk about that, to share what works, what new ideas are out there, and I think we can gain from that. And I am very excited that the President has asked me to bring this forum together for the first time. It is a historic meeting.

MODERATOR: Questions?

QUESTION: Hi. Good morning. This is Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. How has the conference been affected by the fly ash volcano eruption in Europe? Are you having all these ministers attending this conference? And secondly, India has recently announced that it will be providing a hundred days of compulsory or mandatory employment to all those unemployed persons. How – any comments from you on this?

MS. POLASKI: Well, I mentioned a moment ago that, unfortunately, four ministers from Northern European countries would not be able to join us, but they will have surrogates there. Either they will send video presentations or their ambassadors will represent them. So we continue to have participation from every one of the G-20 countries at either the most senior level or another very senior surrogate.

Were you referring to the 100 days of rural employment guarantee in India? Well, it’s interesting that you should raise that because Minister Kargai, the employment minister from India who is attending the conference, has asked to speak about that as one of the key innovations that India has made, a policy which has been challenging to implement but at the end of the day very successful, I think successful beyond the expectations of almost everyone. And India has learned and has refined the strategy, and so there is a great deal of anticipation to hear from Minister Kargai about these policies, how they have worked, and are there lessons that are transferrable to other countries at low and middle income levels.


QUESTION: I’m Brian Beary from Europolitics. I’m just wondering, if there’s at least four ministers from European countries not present, I mean, can you actually adopt these recommendations without ministerial presence?

MS. POLASKI: You’ve heard of sherpas? (Laughter.) Sherpas are the designated representatives of ministers that generally do the work in the hall outside of the meeting room or in the long night after the meeting ends, all through the night until the meeting begins, to translate into language the views of their governments and their ministries. And generally, they carry the authority of the minister to make decisions, and that is the case here. So we will both have the sherpas who are here – we will have more senior officials either from capital or from the embassy. And of course they’ll have constant telephonic contact with their capitals. We have heard from all of the delegations that they come fully empowered to negotiate. Again, 16 of the countries will be represented at ministerial level, the other four at very senior levels. And they have assured us that they will have the authority to negotiate so that the recommendations can be finalized.

QUESTION: Thank you. Heba el Koudsy, Al Masry Al Youm, an Egyptian newspaper. I have two questions. First, are you going to discuss the condition of the foreign workers in Europe or any of the G-20’s countries? And the second one is: Are you going to come up with some recommendation, and what are the tools to enforce these recommendations? Thank you.

MS. POLASKI: Yes, as part of the discussion, we are going to be focusing on social safety nets or protection systems for the most vulnerable. And in most countries, the most vulnerable groups do include many of the migrant workers. In our own country, they may include migrant workers who are documented or undocumented. And in other countries, it’s not at all uncommon for the migrant workers to be among the most vulnerable groups. We will be talking about broad policies that we can adopt across our societies but with a particular view to being sure that our social protection systems, that our unemployment systems, that our social safety nets also work for the most vulnerable populations, because there is a great concern among the ministers.

This is something that Secretary Solis has worked on and talked about, but I’ve been hearing it from all the other governments as we prepare for the meeting. There’s a great concern that as we come out of this crisis, the vulnerable groups could be left behind and we could be left with higher unemployment rates for them and perhaps even some very long, persisting unemployment. So that will very much be on the agenda.

And I’m sorry; your second question?

QUESTION: It’s about the recommendation, how to enforce this recommendation or what’s the tool to enforce –

MS. POLASKI: Secretary, would you like to --

SECRTARY SOLIS: Well, I know that we’ll be making our recommendations to the President, and all the labor ministers that are in attendance will also be doing the same thing once they return to their countries. And then at the June meeting that the G-20 will have in Toronto, Canada, June 26 and 27, our hope is that the G-20 leaders there will also again continue to focus in on the recommendations that we’re putting forward.

I’m very excited. I know that this is something that is very bold, a step that the President has made, and we are very much engaged and want to work with all our partners to see that we can share. I mean, this is an opportunity for us to address a major crisis but also share what works – better in some places than others – and, hopefully, continue to move along so that the recovery doesn’t leave any vulnerable populations up to more exposure.

And I think that this is something that all of us are very concerned about. We just met with the labor minister from Argentina, who also is very concerned and has a lot of interest in working with us to see that we don’t leave anyone behind. And it’s something very important, especially for those countries that are struggling. And we see the need to provide a good safety net for children, for women, and vulnerable populations, especially migrant workers who are working in different countries now. We know that there’s an unevenness that occurs, and we definitely want to share best practices.

QUESTION: Thank you. Shanshan Wang from China Radio International. As Secretary Solis mentioned just now, this will be the first-ever meeting of its kind. Will it develop into a regular meeting or an annual meeting, or it is just held under the difficult labor market now? Thank you.

SECRETARY SOLIS: Well, we know there’s a great deal of interest on the part of all the G-20 members. I mean, typically what had happened in the past, I think, at the G-8, we met as labor ministers there and had other opportunities. But because the crisis is so prolonged and we know it’s affecting so many countries, that I think that the President, our President, had a very good vision about raising this level of awareness. So we’re hopeful that all the labor ministers will join with us at this first event here and we’ll see where we go. But I’m inspired just by the outpouring of support, the attendance, and the people that want to make sure that they’re a part of this, because we really do have to work with our financial sector, but also what’s very important are those people, the labor force, and participation of that labor force. So I think those are very key elements and I’m looking forward to see how we can continue this effort.

MODERATOR: If there are no more questions, then we’ll conclude the meeting, Madam Secretary.

MR. FIOLLICHIO: (Inaudible) some guidance for reporters for tomorrow’s arrival.

MODERATOR: All right. Would you like to make that announcement, please?

QUESTION: There’s a question here.

MODERATOR: Okay. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Xiong Min with the 21st Century Business Herald again. Just wondering, can you tell us more about the Chinese ministries’ engagement in these meetings? Or are there any specific issues that you have discussed with the Chinese?

MS. POLASKI: The Chinese Government has been fully engaged in the preparation for the meetings, and Minister Yin indeed is attending and has not been inconvenienced by the ash cover and so will be arriving, I believe, later today. But throughout the preparations, China has been a full participant.

And I think your question really just prompts me to say something that I’ve observed after many, many years of negotiating in international fora. I think that there is not only enthusiasm about holding this historic meeting, but the sense of cooperation and goodwill, the sense that we really need to make concrete achievements that can actually improve policy going forward, has been very strong in these meetings. And I can say that that characterizes all of the participants, and certainly that includes China.

MODERATOR: One --

QUESTION: Yeah. I have one final question regarding the recommendation again. Some countries in the G-20, such as Saudi Arabia, for example, have restricted labor laws. Will these recommendations have some kind of reconsidering to changing some labor laws in these countries?

MS. POLASKI: As we’ve been preparing the potential recommendations, the things that the ministers will be discussing for the next two days, indeed a number of countries – and certainly not only Saudi Arabia but many countries – have recognized that even before the crisis, a number of problems had developed in our labor markets so that we were finding that we did not see that productivity growth was necessarily translating into wage growth the way that it had in earlier periods. We saw that in many countries there was a huge increase in irregular employment – non-regular, informal – a casualization of employment, which is not desirable, which transfers risk to the households.

We saw a number of problems that had been evolving over years in our economies. And there was widespread agreement among the sherpas, who were preparing the issues for discussion by the ministers, that we really do have to go back and look at, as I said before, not only the quantity of jobs, and as Secretary Solis said, which means getting the conditions right to allow the private sector to generate jobs and making sure that the public sector is doing what it can do, but also to look at the quality of jobs. And that means looking at the laws that govern our national labor markets and seeing if those laws need to be strengthened or do they need to be enforced more ambitiously, do we need better regulations?

This is a process that Secretary Solis has led at the Department of Labor ever since she was sworn in, in February of 2009. And it turns out that it’s a preoccupation that is widely shared. And so the ministers, yes, will be talking about that and talking about what can be done going forward.

Just to your earlier question I didn’t answer, there is not an enforcement mechanism. This is really a generation of policy ideas, policy ideas generated by the experts, the labor ministers, to be given by the heads of government. The heads of government, of course, have to bring together all of their concerns about their economies, about their societies. They have to bring together their concerns about the financial market and so on. But they asked the ministers to meet, as Secretary Solis said, because they wanted to keep a very, very sharp focus on employment, because, as President Obama said, jobs are his top priority this year. And I think that’s shared by many of his fellow heads of government.

And so really the notion is to get good policy ideas shared and coordinated policy ideas in place. So it’s not really a question of enforcement; it’s a question of vision and moving forward.

MODERATOR: Okay. Is there one more? Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Ekaterina Venkina, for the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS. I know that Russia is going to be represented and hopefully our representatives will be able to come despite the weather conditions. And I only had the question, you know, the question of migrants, and it is really one of the most essential questions for the labor market in Russia. And I just wanted to ask if you have any special particular issues that you’re going to discuss with Russian representatives.

MS. POLASKI: Yes, Russia will be represented at the very senior level and we have not heard of any problem; it’s the vice minister who is going to arrive. Russia has asked to speak about programs that it’s implementing which relocate people who have ended up in parts of the country that are economically depressed, that have been affected greatly by the changes in the Russian economy over the last 20 years, and really trying to increase the mobility of the workers in communities who are affected that way, to increase their mobility in terms of their own training and job skills, but also to do the other things that makes it possible for them to locate jobs in other regions, to actually move with their children. It’s a very interesting topic. It’s a problem that Russia has faced, perhaps more intensely even than many other countries, and we were very glad when we heard that the vice minister wanted to come and to talk about that program and that experience with us.

MODERATOR: All right. I think now we’ll get the guidance on information you can receive at the end of the conference.

MR. FIOLLICHIO: Clarisse Young in the back of the room has press kits and information about how to cover the event tomorrow. The arrival ceremony is at the U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue Northwest, between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. We will be making video and photographs of the arrival ceremony and the official greeting by the Secretary available on our website. We will be allowing a pool spray at the top of the meeting and then the press conference on Wednesday at 3:30 in – at the U.S. Department of Labor.

We do ask that you credential through Clarisse’s office and she can take your credentials down so we can badge you and so you have access to the building tomorrow. We also can provide help in assisting and setting up interviews with your labor minister that may be attending, and Clarisse can handle that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. FIOLLICHIO: The meeting itself will be closed. The sessions will be closed, but the press conference at the end will be open on Wednesday, 3:30 at the Department of Labor. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you all.

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