Opening remarks by Angel Gurría,
20 October 2020
Ladies and gentlemen, Minister Hallberg, Director-General Ryder,
I am pleased to launch the new Global Deal report - ‘Social Dialogue, Skills and COVID-19’, which comes at a difficult time for the global economy.
Our latest economic projections are bleak, with global GDP expected to contract by 4.5% in 2020. By April 2020, the OECD unemployment rate had reached 8.8% - the highest in a decade. A virus resurgence could cut another 2-3 percentage points from global growth in 2021, leaving us with high unemployment and weak investment.
The role of social dialogue
Governments must continue to provide policy support that is targeted and adapted to changing conditions.
Our new Global Deal report shows that social dialogue has shaped the policies that supported workers and sustained the economy, helping to boost confidence and curbing the most immediate welfare effects of the crisis. Let me provide some key examples.
First, in several countries such as Argentina, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and South Africa, social dialogue maintained employment by facilitating short-time working arrangements.
In Austria, where a short-time work system already existed, social partners agreed to shorten the notice period from 6 weeks to 48 hours, expand access for small and micro-enterprises, and increase the wage replacement rate. In return, workers agreed to forego 3 weeks of holiday if the crisis lasted longer than 3 months. As a result, many businesses refrained from dismissing workers, trade unions accepted reduced working hours and monthly wages, while governments compensated some of the wage losses.
Second, social dialogue has proven crucial for health and safety at the workplace. In several countries, sectors and companies, social partners and governments have negotiated measures that limit the spread of the virus and promote a safe return to work.
In Italy, in early March, social partners negotiated a “code of good conduct”. Similar agreements were struck in automobile factories in the US, retail stores in Austria, and in global companies such as Telefonica.
Social dialogue for skills development
Social dialogue’s importance is not limited to the immediate management of the crisis. It also helps countries meet their UN 2030 Agenda commitments and to be better prepared to address today’s ‘’megatrends’’ such as globalisation, digitalisation and climate change.
As we advance through these shifts, workers must be equipped with the necessary skills to adapt and thrive.
Our report provides important evidence on how social dialogue can support well-functioning systems of adult learning across the globe. Social partners are working together in skills councils to assess skills demands and to draft adult learning strategies. Collective agreements are supporting training rights and enforcing training levies, sometimes at the expense of higher wages. Initiatives for displaced workers are particularly important as COVID-19 is triggering waves of labour market restructuring.
Sweden, for example, has Job Security Councils – jointly managed by employers and trade union organisations – that provide timely guidance, advice and training toworkers even before any dismissal takes place.
Global Deal partners support social dialogue
Global Deal partners are continuing to advance social dialogue by voluntarily engaging in a diverse range of specific commitments.
Some companies have concluded global framework agreements with trade unions, ensuring social dialogue capacity all along their supply chains. Others are committing to pay a living wage for all their global operations. Governments are addressing precarious work practices in co-operation with social partners. And civil society organisations are mobilising the power of fair trade by ensuring that the producers they buy from engage in social dialogue.
At the OECD, our engagement with Business at OECD (BIAC) and the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) is also part of our efforts to promote social dialogue.
And our Business for Inclusive Growth initiative (B4IG) brings together forty multinationals whose CEOs initially signed a “Pledge to Fight Against Inequalities”, back in mid-2019, and are now refocusing their work to help address the challenges posed by COVID-19.
The OECD is also supporting countries in shaping their response to the crisis. Our COVID-19 Digital Hub, launched in March, has now over 155 COVID-related policy briefs and a policy tracker. It has received more than 1.2 million unique visitors so far, mostly policymakers.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The importance of social dialogue cannot be overstated at this very challenging time. Let’s work together to support workers, protect livelihoods and ensure they have the skills needed for the post-COVID labour market and beyond.