I consider it a privilege and an honour to represent one of the oldest employer federations in Asia, the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon, at this 102nd Session of the International Labour Conference this year. Today, the world of work is facing tough challenges. Global growth has slowed down and unemployment has started to increase, leaving a total of 197 million people without a job in 2012. The un-employment rate is set to increase again and the number of unemployed worldwide is projected to rise by 5.1 million in 2013, and by another 3 million in 2014. Young people remain particularly stricken by the crisis. Currently, 73.8 million young people are unemployed globally.
For the last 14 years, the ILO has been promoting the Decent Work Agenda within four strategic objectives, one of which has been employment creation. The Global Jobs Pact, which was adopted in 2009, called upon countries to introduce job-centred policies. Notwithstanding all of this, statistics are rising to astonishing proportions. How must the ILO respond to these challenges? Shouldn’t the ILO be less prescriptive and more proactive? Shouldn’t the ILO be less critical and more practical? Above all, shouldn’t the ILO acknowledge the unique diversity of its constituents and postulate standards that are realistic in the world of work?
We Employers are certainly encouraged by the words of the Director-General of the International Labour Office at the Conference this year. He told the Employers that it is incumbent on the ILO and its leadership to do everything possible to make sure that the ILO is relevant and useful, and reaches out to the business sector. This can only be a reality when the ILO is ready to hear and respond to every single voice in that sector.
Sri Lanka has developed a labour policy which recognizes creation of employment as one of its four policy directives. Sri Lanka is poised towards economic development. The Government forecasts per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of US$4,800 by 2016. But, there is much to be done in creating an enabling environment for employment growth in Sri Lanka.
We are happy that the social partners in Sri Lanka very recently signed the DWCP which sets out country priorities for the next four years. However, we need to acknowledge and accept that decent work needs certain basic decent conditions. Decent work necessarily requires a decent enabling environment for employment generation. Decent work requires flexible work arrangements without restrictions inhibiting access to employment to any particular section of society. Decent work requires a proper labour relations framework that will focus on strengthening workplace relations between employers and employees. Decent work requires recognition that there is unlikely to be work or jobs every-where that are equally remunerative and attractive, or equally satisfying.
The time has come for employers to look beyond their bottom lines and for workers to look beyond their rights. The time has come for governments to do what they ought to do in terms of their country’s socio-economic requirements without being inhibited by populist political interests. Tomorrow’s challenges in the world of work can only be faced if all social partners work together.
Let me conclude with the famous African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” Let us all work together.