ECDPM Talks to European Commission Employment Experts, Rudi Delarue and Nicholas Taylor
ECDPM: In what ways does the European Union (EU) support the promotion of decent work for all, both inside its borders and beyond?
Rudi Delarue: The EU promotes decent work for all through all relevant internal and external policies and actions, both in its bilateral relations, such as with partner countries and at regional level, and through international forums such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations (UN), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and G20. This approach (1) was adopted by the European Commission (EC) in 2006 and received strong support by the Council, the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee.
The EU has since made efforts towards international initiatives for protecting vulnerable groups such as through the adoption and implementation of the ILO Convention N°189 on decent work for domestic workers. As this convention affects EU competences the European Commission has presented a legislative proposal to the Council authorising EU Member States to ratify this Convention. Council and Parliament have swiftly approved this proposal.
The EU strongly supported the adoption of ILO Recommendation 202 on Social Protection Floors from 2012 and fosters its implementation (2). There is an increased interest in social protection in response to the global financial and economic crisis.
Furthermore, the new generation of free trade agreements (FTAs) includes labour provisions in the chapter on sustainable development, with clear commitments on fundamental rights and principles at work as well as a follow-up mechanism. FTAs furthermore include provisions for the promotion of and cooperation on other international labour standards, Corporate Social Responsibility and the broader ILO Decent Work Agenda.
ECDPM: The EU maintains dialogue and cooperation with strategic partners such as India and China on decent work issues, among other things. How does the promotion of decent work feature in the EU's partnership with emerging economies?
Rudi Delarue: This is part of the EU’s efforts to promote the EU social and economic model as well as its values on employment and social policy outside its borders. The global endorsement of the Decent Work Agenda has facilitated the bilateral dialogue and cooperation on employment and social issues with partner countries and within international forums such as ILO, UN and G20.
China for instance has a strong interest in the EU’s experience with the coordination of social security rights in the case of transnational mobility, as it is confronted with similar mobility challenges for Chinese workers moving between its provinces. EU experience on workplace health and safety, in particular in high-risk sectors such as mining, is also of interest to China. Other issues, such as labour market institutions and wage fixing, social protection, social inclusion and youth employment are or have been on the agenda. Skills development is a big theme in the EU-India dialogue, although there is also interest in issues such as social protection and workplace health and safety.
Crucially, the EU involves its social partners in its outreach to partner countries and regions such as in its meetings with Latin American and Caribbean countries as well as through ASEM (Asia-EU meeting).
ECDPM: How does the EU’s commitment to the promotion of decent work for all translate into its development cooperation efforts?
Nicholas Taylor: Promotion of productive employment and decent work are highlighted as key drivers for sustainable and inclusive growth in EC Communication “A decent life for all” (3) as well as in the European Report on Development (ERD) 2013 "Post 2015: Global Action for an Inclusive and Sustainable Future" (4). Feeding into these discussions are lessons from a global joint EC-ILO project on decent work indicators, which supported nine developing and transition countries to self-monitor and assess progress in the various areas that conform the decent work agenda. The experience and results of this project provided crucial elements in the discussions on the role of employment in the post-2015 agenda (5).
Furthermore, as Rudi noted, the Commission has been a strong advocate for social protection floors, including through the ILC Recommendation. The EU strongly supports the systematisation of social protection in developing countries. This is clearly stated in the Communication on Social Protection in EU Development Cooperation (2012) (6).
ECDPM: What recent progress has the EC made in promoting decent work outside the EU's borders, particularly in Africa? What can we expect in the new budgetary period (2014-2020)?
Nicholas Taylor: The EU has recently partnered with the ILO in order to support partner countries in developing comprehensive, evidence-based employment strategies covering the different aspects of the Decent Work Agenda through projects implemented in Benin, Burkina Faso, Zambia, Niger and Malawi. We have also worked on reinforcing labour market information systems from a bi-regional approach in Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal, and are supporting vocational education and training (VET) national strategies in Ivory Coast, Gabon and Benin.
With regard to the 2014- 2020 programming period, while decent work will not be a focal sector as such in many country programmes, the EC will be working on strengthening the employment perspective within key sectors of cooperation in the Africa region. We aim to help policy-makers and development practitioners to effectively integrate the employment dimension and objectives within sector policies and programmes.
To this end, the Directorate-General for Development and Cooperation (DEVCO) will be implementing two new projects with ILO in 2014. The overall objective of these projects is to strengthen the positive impact and minimise the negative effects on employment in partner countries of sector policies and programmes on the one hand, and trade and trade policy on the other.
The first project focuses on the employment impact of sector policies, particularly in the agriculture, private sector development and energy sectors, within the framework of development policy. The second projects builds on the results of a recently completed project on the effects of trade on employment, and will further strengthen the capacity of partner countries to assess and address the employment impact of trade policies. These projects are expected to start by mid-2014.
ECDPM: How do and will the EC's efforts to promote decent work outside its borders link with initiatives to engage the private sector?
Rudi Delarue: Aside from the labour rights commitments in new FTAs, an important development in this regard is the cooperation between the European Commission and the ILO to strengthen the capacity of local social partners and labour institutions in developing countries on addressing the interplay between trade, investment and decent work.
Another recent and very tangible example is the Compact for Bangladesh, agreed by the government of Bangladesh, the ILO and the EU (7), which addresses safety and working conditions following factory building collapses and fires. The EU is the largest market for Bangladeshi Ready Made Garments (RMG), and Bangladesh enjoys access to the EU market under the EU trade scheme "Anything but Arms". Meanwhile, private sector buyers and brands signed up to accords on factory safety in Bangladesh set up by the private sector and international trade unions, with the ILO as a neutral chair.
Addressing decent work deficits also concerns other countries in Asia and elsewhere. The European Commission has financially supported a number of initiatives by civil society on promoting a living wage in the global RMG supply chain. The European Commission contributed to an initiative developed by the German and Dutch governments on promoting living wages in the global supply chain, and is considering an initiative on establishing an EU due diligence scheme for responsible sourcing of minerals from conflict affected and high risk areas. Furthermore, the EC communication on the EU strategy 2012-2014 on Corporate Social Responsibility includes a variety of actions aiming at promoting CSR both in the EU and outside.
This interview was conducted by Florian Krätke, Policy Officer at ECDPM.
1. See more at http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/employment_and_social_policy/international_dimension_and_enlargement/em0023_en.htm
2. See more at http://www.ilo.org/secsoc/areas-of-work/legal-advice/WCMS_205341/lang--en/index.htm
3. EC. 2013. Communication: A decent life for all: Ending poverty and giving the world a sustainable future. 27.02.2013. EC: Brussels.
4. See http://www.erd-report.eu/erd/report_2012/documents/FullReportEN.pdf
5. See http://www.ilo.org/integration/themes/mdw/WCMS_123804/lang--en/index.htm
6. EC. 2012. Communication: Social Protection in European Union Development Cooperation. 20.08.2012. EC: Brussels.
7. See more at http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/activities/all/WCMS_217271/lang--en/index.htm
This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 3, Issue 2 (February 2014).