Remarks by Angel Gurría
26 June 2020 - OECD, France
(As prepared for delivery)
Excellencies, Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to open this High-Level Briefing on ‘’Social Dialogue and the SDGs in the times of the COVID-19 Pandemic’’. This event comes at a critical moment as our economies and societies continue to grapple with the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic.
The global context has dramatically changed. Our latest Economic Outlook, which we launched on 10 June, paints a sobering picture. We expect the global economy to shrink this year by 6 to 7.6%, with more than 40 million additional people being unemployed in OECD countries by the end of the year.
The pandemic is also exposing the poor quality of many jobs, inequalities in pay, job security and access to social protection. Challenges are even more daunting in much of the developing world, due to the prevalence of informality and safety nets that predominantly rely on the support of family members. Moreover, we have documented the risks of the crisis for youth, vulnerable children, and women.
When leaders met virtually just a few weeks ago at the invitation of UN Secretary-General Guterres, we expressed our concern that the crisis and its aftermath must not derail our efforts to achieve the SDGs. The SDGs are our blueprint for “building back better”, and I see social dialogue as one of the most important ingredients in this effort.
Recent successes in tackling the effects of COVID-19 testify to the fact that social dialogue is working. In several countries, social partners quickly came together with governments to manage the immediate impact of the pandemic on workplaces and businesses.
Compromises were shaped to keep workers in jobs, safeguard companies, and stabilise household incomes. Earlier this month, we held a virtual meeting of the Global Deal Steering Committee, during which we discussed the importance of social dialogue and effective partnerships in tackling the challenges of COVID-19.
Moreover, our Policy Brief on ‘’Social Partnership in the times of the COVID-19 Pandemic’’, prepared by the Global Deal Unit, contains several interesting examples of how social dialogue has functioned as a “crisis circuit breaker” of sorts.
For instance, Austria already had a system of short time work in place. But, early on, social partners reached an agreement to upgrade it in the face of the pandemic. The 6 weeks’ notice period has been reduced to 48 hours; small and micro-enterprises can now access the system, and workers are guaranteed 80% to 90% of their previous (net) wage. In return, workers agreed to give up 3 weeks of holidays if the crisis lasts longer than 3 months.
In South Africa, through a Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme, workers will be able to exhaust their leave entitlements and – on the other hand – employers will continue to pay wages to off-time workers while receiving a temporary relief benefit.
Many employers and trade unions have also signed protocols on health and safety for a safe return to work, often setting up committees with worker representatives to monitor the implementation of such measures.
Looking ahead, beyond the immediate health and economic crisis, it is clear that we need to chart a new policy course. One that is in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Social dialogue has a key role to play in this respect. The Global Deal policy brief “Social Dialogue in the 2030 Agenda” highlights that the connection between social dialogue and several of the SDGs runs both ways.
On the one hand, pursuing SDG targets, such as protecting labour rights and promoting the rule of law, helps enable effective social dialogue. On the other, social dialogue is positively associated with lower poverty rates, reduced inequality, more inclusive investment in human capital, gender equality and better quality jobs. Our analysis shows that the income share held by the bottom 40% is higher in countries with more intense social dialogue.
This is why the OECD is proud to host the secretariat of the Global Deal, which Prime Minister Löfven launched back in 2016, in partnership with the OECD and the International Labour Organization (ILO). The Global Deal is about showing that effective social dialogue and social partnerships are good for business, good for workers, and good for society.
As we focus on sustainable growth, we must also ensure that we address the climate and environmental crisis. We now have an opportunity to build economic systems that value nature as the central source of human well-being and environmental health in the post-COVID-19 world. Governments must act fast to ensure a green and inclusive recovery; this is particularly important given that improving environmental sustainability also reduces vulnerability to pandemics.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Social dialogue is indispensable in our efforts to exit the COVID-19 crisis. We therefore need to give it the opportunity and institutional support to develop. Rest assured that the OECD, in partnership with the Global Deal, will continue to champion social dialogue and ensure it becomes an integral part of our efforts as we design, develop and deliver better policies for better lives. Thank you.