OECD Meeting of the Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Committee at Ministerial Level welcome address


Remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

15 January 2016

OECD, Paris, France

(As prepared for delivery)



Tánaiste, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this OECD Employment and Labour Ministerial meeting.


We gather here as labour market conditions are improving. Job creation is strengthening in many countries, in no small part thanks to policy efforts made by many of you during these difficult years.  But there are still over 40 million people looking for work in OECD countries, 8 million more than in December 2007. Almost 1 in 3 unemployed have been out of work for a year or more, and in Europe this proportion is 1 in 2. Time is running out to prevent millions of workers from becoming trapped at the bottom of the economic ladder. Unemployment is also perpetuating income inequality, which is at its highest level in 30 years in most OECD countries.


But this is not just about numbers, it’s about opportunities. Countries will stand or fall depending on their results on the labour market. And good results will require a multidimensional approach. Last year, in my “21 for '21” document to support my renewal as Secretary-General of this organisation, I set out a vision for a strong, interconnected social policy at the OECD. This means skills, equal opportunities, closing the gender gap. This means well-being, better health, better childcare provision, better integrating migrants, turning ageing into an opportunity. If we get this right, we’ll see the good results in the labour market. If we get this right, we’ll see more productivity, more inclusiveness, and stronger and more sustainable growth.



Making labour markets more inclusive


Inclusive growth relies on inclusive labour markets:  more inclusive of youth, more inclusive of women, of older workers and of those with mental health problems. It is a human tragedy that more than 40 million young people (or 1 in 6 youth) across OECD countries are neither employed nor in education or training, the so-called NEETs.


We also have to do more to promote participation among women. At the end of 2015, one third of women aged between 25 and 54 did not participate in the labour market. The OECD is supporting the G20 countries in their commitment to bring 100 million more women into the labour force, by reducing the gender gap in labour market participation rates by 25% by 2025. This will require a broad set of policy approaches, including promoting paternity leave, ensuring accessible childcare, increasing incentives to work and tackling harmful gender stereotyping in education in the world.


We also have to think of inclusive labour markets in terms of providing more and better opportunities to under-represented and vulnerable groups, for example older workers or those with mental health problems, who are often left behind and less likely than others to be in work. I am delighted that during the Ministerial we will be releasing two key recommendations just adopted by the OECD Council: 


The OECD will continue to support you in building a more inclusive and fair labour market through our surveys, our comparative analysis, and our thematic country reviews on skills, active labour policies, and youth for example. The OECD Job Quality Framework – which I was particularly glad to see adopted by the G20 Leaders in Antalya last year – provides a comprehensive set of actionable policies to improve the quality of jobs. This builds on the conclusions of our New Approaches to Economic Challenges initiative (NAEC), which shows that there is no trade-off between job quality and quantity. Countries which promote job quality also foster job quantity.


Better policies for inclusive labour markets are not only essential for social cohesion and well-being, but also for long-term growth and economic resilience to shocks.



Making labour markets more resilient


This brings me to the second theme of this ministerial: resilience. The global financial and economic crisis has clearly shown the importance of having in place policies and institutions that foster the resilience of labour markets to large adverse shocks.


Of course, this feeds into the skills agenda. A highly skilled workforce, with competences that are transferable to emerging sectors and jobs ensures adaptability in the face of economic or technological shocks. But our evidence also suggests that effective collective bargaining and social dialogue help strengthen resilience by facilitating adjustment to shocks. While segmented labour markets with many workers in temporary and often precarious jobs hinder resilience and tend to concentrate the costs on already disadvantaged groups. 


This Ministerial meeting provides a unique opportunity to discuss lessons from the recent crisis, share our experience on what worked and what did not work and set the agenda for the OECD’s work going forward to support your efforts to promote a more resilient and inclusive labour market.



Future of work


While addressing these challenges, we also need to be proactive and address the consequences of the deep changes that are increasingly affecting employment in the 21st century. With globalisation and digitalisation, for example, we are witnessing major shifts in the types of jobs, the skills they require, as well as in social protection systems and the organisation of work itself.


Many of you contributed ideas to how we can grasp the opportunities of rapid technological change while addressing its challenges at yesterday’s Policy Forum on the Future of Work, and I thank you for your insights. You discussed digitalisation as an opportunity for our economies, creating new markets and jobs.


But, on the flip side, many existing jobs will surely be destroyed or will have to be significantly re-tooled. Changes in skills requirements and the organisation of work will create pressure on job quality, family-work balance, inequality and social inclusion.  We have to get the policy and institutional settings right to ensure the Future of Work is a fair, inclusive and productive future.


Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,


And all our evidence from work on the , the so-called NAEC, and from our inclusive growth project tells us that the only way to deliver this future is by adopting a coherent, well integrated policy approach. By investing in skills, skills, skills at every level of education, at every age, in every sector. By bridging the gender gap. By integrating vulnerable groups. By strengthening well-targeted and effective labour market policies. By promoting broad-based wellbeing.


We have to take the insights from NAEC, from our inclusive growth initiative, from our Better Life Index and put them all together in a new, invigorated, updated Jobs Strategy. Because it is the labour market that will define our success, it’s the labour market that will deliver the inclusive and productive future we need.


Let me now invite Mrs. Joan Burton, Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection of Ireland, whom I would also like to thank for accepting to chair this Ministerial meeting. I would also like to use this occasion to thank the Ministers from France and Germany, Ms Myriam El Khomri and Ms Andrea Nahles, Ministers, for co-chairing this Ministerial meeting. We very much regret that Minister Rincón, from Chile, could not be with us as she is defending at home an ambitious labour reform. I am thrilled that we are renewing our strategies for the future today with an entirely female bureau.


Tánaiste, the floor is yours.