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Source: International Labour Organization –

Premier Li,

Thank you for convening once again this most valuable annual exchange.

This year it comes at a time of deep crisis, with the global economic and social outlook very uncertain. What we do know for certain is that our world will be poorer and more unequal than it would have been without the virus.

This is due in large part to the unprecedented impact on labour markets that we have seen in recent months. Of course the situation differs by region and by country, and you have given us some very positive news regarding China. But globally the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause massive disruption to many industries, notably tourism and hospitality. The availability and supply of a wide range of raw materials, intermediate goods, and finished products have been seriously affected. This in turn has meant the loss of millions of jobs, which will lead to increased poverty and inequality.

The ILO has estimated that global working-hour losses remained high in the third quarter of this year, at more than 12 per cent, or the equivalent of 345 million full-time jobs. This translates into a global decline in labour income of almost 11 per cent during the first three quarters of 2020, amounting to US$3.5 trillion, or 5.5 per cent of global GDP.

When these losses are not mitigated by social protection, cash transfers or other sources of income, they push households into poverty. This is the human cost of the crisis. We estimate that the global working poverty rate will increase from 7.1 per cent to as much as 8.5 per cent this year, pushing the number of workers in extreme poverty to as many as 270 million.

This means that the pandemic has also exposed, and in many cases made worse, pre-existing vulnerabilities and inequalities. Informal economy workers (and this means 6 out of 10 of the world’s workers), casual workers, those on fixed-term contracts, and domestic and migrant workers are suffering most.

Never has the divide between the haves and the have-nots been so wide or made so painfully clear. While some have access to sick leave and health services and continue to receive a salary, others – normally those at the bottom of the income distribution – who have no access to social protection, face catastrophic consequences.

Inequalities also play out in what happens to people when they catch the virus. Never has the divide between the haves and the have-nots been so wide or made so painfully clear. While some have access to sick leave and health services and continue to receive a salary, others – normally those at the bottom of the income distribution – who have no access to social protection, face catastrophic consequences.

Never has the divide between the haves and the have-nots been so wide or made so painfully clear. While some have access to sick leave and health services and continue to receive a salary, others – normally those at the bottom of the income distribution – who have no access to social protection, face catastrophic consequences.”

Mr Premier,

In rebuilding the world’s devastated economies, urgent priority needs to be devoted to reducing those inequalities and ensuring for all a fair share of the fruits of progress – that bigger pie of which you have talked, but also a fairer distribution. In that regard, the ambition of China to reduce inequalities and imbalances during its 14th five-year plan is a key to generating sustained and inclusive growth. Income support measures for vulnerable groups need to be a policy priority in that endeavour. And above all, social protection systems need to be strengthened, especially for those millions of flexible and informal workers who live, and sometimes barely survive, with very high levels of income insecurity.

China’s elimination of extreme poverty in rural areas is a very positive signal to the world. However, while tackling absolute poverty is a must, we should not underestimate the negative impact of relative poverty and income inequality. In a society, we are only as strong as the weakest among us, and that applies also to the global economy. If we are to build greater resilience and a more effective ability to recover, we need to support the most vulnerable.

The world needs to use this crisis to put ourselves on the path to a better future that is both inclusive and of course more sustainable. We can do this, if we base our strategy on solidarity, cooperation and dialogue.

To recover better and quicker, governments will need to increase public and private investments in employment-intensive sectors in order to create jobs, and increase labour productivity, consumer confidence and economic growth. Here too, China’s 14th five year Plan envisages strengthening domestic markets through an employment first strategy, the development of innovation, and more investment in physical and digital infrastructure. It also emphasizes the strength of its own consumer market and most obviously, given its size, an increase in China’s consumption would not only be good for the Chinese economy but would have positive spill-over effects on global economy.

I’d like to emphasize in particular that increasing wages and social protection benefits for those at the bottom of the income distribution would strengthen consumption and promote recovery.

All of this would contribute to a human-centred approach, as reflected in the ILO’s Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals.

Indeed, the SDGs, with their emphasis on employment-intensive sustainable infrastructure – both physical and social – constitute a massive job creation agenda in waiting. They are a roadmap that points us in the direction that we need to travel together.

Yet even before the pandemic, progress in the implementation of the SDGs had been slow, due mainly to a lack of financing. To build back better and greener we will need to make a collective effort to find the necessary funds. We need to give ourselves the means to invest in digital infrastructure, green technologies and new ways of learning, whilst ensuring that we leave no one behind.

To build back better and greener we will need to make a collective effort to find the necessary funds. We need to give ourselves the means to invest in digital infrastructure, green technologies and new ways of learning, whilst ensuring that we leave no one behind.”

Mr Premier, I think we can all agree on the keys to getting out of this crisis. Vaccines and debt are immediate priorities. We must also think beyond them, to deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It would be enormously positive if our dialogue today could also lead to increased cooperation with and between the international organizations around this virtual table and with others. If we could step up our joint action, in particular at country-level, that would make our interventions more effective in support of the inclusive and sustainable recovery that we all seek.

When the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, and it will, the world is going to look very different from what it is today or what it was yesterday. It is up to all of us, working together, to make it better.

Thank you.

MIL OSI NGO