The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat today opened a consultation to discuss a proposed social dialogue mechanism and social protection for the region to provide recommendations to the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD).
The one-day consultation, which is being facilitated under the 10th European Development Fund CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) Economic Integration Programme, saw representatives of employers’ bodies, trade unions and relevant government ministries from approximately 12 member states.
Representative of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Claudia Coenjaerts during her presentation at the event which was held at the CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Georgetown, spoke of the importance of tripartite (three-party) social dialogue, which she said is a basis for development of policies in the world of work.
Participants of the Regional Consultation on the Establishment of a Regional Tripartite Social Dialogue Mechanism and Regional Social Protection Floor at the CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown
In its World Employment Social Outlook 2016 report, the ILO states that the global deficit in quality jobs and deteriorating economic conditions threaten to undo decades of progress in poverty reduction. The report calculates that some US$600 Billion a year or nearly US$10 trillion over five years, is needed to eradicate extreme poverty and moderate poverty, globally by 2030. It also pointed out that the issue of persistent poverty cannot be solved by income transfers alone, hence more and better jobs are critical to achieving this goal.
Coenjaerts noted that the ILO, in 2008 adopted a new instrument, the Social Justice Declaration, which speaks to the centrality of the world of work issues to development.
In July, CARICOM also reaffirmed the importance of job creation and decent work, she emphasised. “We are now confortable with the idea that it is a comprehensive agenda and is it intrinsically connected to other issues of growth, trade investments and environment, so social dialogue has really a quite broad purview, and that makes it important for us to determine what the agenda can do so that we can focus on getting results,” Coenjaerts said.
According to Coenjaerts, regional integration brings many opportunities, but also comes with many challenges. “Working with specifics is really where the rubber hits the road and that cannot be accomplished by Governments alone. Workers and employers must have a seat at the table, and I should add, they must be informed, structured, articulate and constructive,” Coenjaerts pointed out.
On the issue of social protection, Coenjaerts said that social protection is a human right, yet 73 percent of the world’s population has no access to adequate social protection; many of them struggle with poverty. She said that the Caribbean is in a somewhat better position, but the number of people not covered remains large and for some, the coverage is not high enough.
Social protection is critical to inclusive growth, as it boosts human capital and productivity, supports domestic demands and facilitates structural transformation of national economies. Coenjaerts said that it is important that a social protection system is looked at, rather than isolated and unconnected initiatives.
Meanwhile, Wayne Chen, President, Caribbean Employers’ Confederation (CEC) said that the CEC is committed to deepening the process of social dialogue at the national and regional levels, and to the development of robust social protection for all citizens.
Chen said that employers must recognise their vital role in providing decent and sustainable jobs and economic opportunities which are essential for economic growth, wealth, creation and improved living standards.
“We have to work together to ensure that scarce state resources are effectively utilised to meet the critical needs. We cannot do everything, so we must ensure that what we do is in the correct priority, effective, and aligned with the needs and aspirations of our people… A fine balance has to be achieved as we are competing against countries and regions with lower wages and standards of social protection. Finding this balance will only be possible with meaningful and effective social dialogue,” Chen noted.
The consultation is a vital step forward in ensuring that these goals are met in an efficient and timely manner, and that countries should commit to implementing structures and targets that are realistic and pragmatic, based on experience with limited resources and capacity, and objectives that are unclear or overambitious, Chen said.
The social protection floor will discuss a range of interventions aimed at ensuring the welfare of citizens and communities. These include employment generation, labour standards and providing a safety net for families and households.
This regional initiative would ensure access to health, education and other services as CARICOM citizens move and work within the region through the CSME.