EI took an active part in a TUAC delegation which met on Tuesday in Rome with the Italian Finance Minister, Giulio Tremonti, who will chair the OECD Ministerial Council later this month.
Speaking on “fiscal consolidation and employment”, one of the topics for the 2010 OECD meeting, EI Senior Consultant Bob Harris pointed to the gap between the rhetoric of support for investment in education and training, and the reality of public sector budget cuts in many OECD countries, as they try to reduce debts incurred to save banks and stimulate economies. He said Finance Ministers had to resist the pressures of special interests often seeking short-term gains. They should instead determine policy based on the imperative of the common good, and the long term welfare of societies.
Funding of education and training was a case in point, he said, urging the Finance Ministers to engage closely with Education, Employment and Labour Ministries from the perspective of education, not as a cost item, but as an investment in sustainable recovery. He also put the TUAC case that for OECD to return to “business as usual”, was the worst option, and said the OECD needed to engage with both the unions and the employers to get a “reality check” on the state of the real economy.
Bob Harris intervened on this topic together with John Evans, TUAC General Secretary, and Luigi Angeletti, General Secretary of UIL, Italy.
Union colleagues from ITUC and TUAC intervened on the other topics: “Property, Integrity and Transparency” (in governance and in the operation of the private sector), and “Sources of Growth: Innovation, Green Growth, Trade”.
There was common ground between the union and employer representatives on the threat to recovery posed by continuing high levels of unemployment, and on the need for OECD to pursue a “whole of government” approach in its advice to member states on recovery policies.
The responses of Minister Tremonti as Council Chair, the OECD Secretary General and Ambassadors representing the Vice-Chairs from Norway and Australia, were positive. The Secretary General, Angel Gurria, said it was “unthinkable” for countries to have a “lost generation” of young people as a result of the crisis. The Secretary General has taken steps, with the support of member states, for TUAC and BIAC to be fully involved for the first time throughout the Ministerial Council, a recognition that governments must engage more with the social partners in confronting the challenges ahead.
Mr Tremonti said there were two scenarios: one would show the financial crisis as being behind us; the other would show the crisis returning because of failure to redress imbalances and weaknesses in governance in the global economy. He distributed a lecture that he had given to the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing last November, which included statements such as: “the causes, effects and risks of the crisis are still essentially with us:
- financial market prices have returned to pre-crisis levels – not so the real economy. Derivatives are once again growing at a dizzying rate, a sign that speculation is back in force with no holds barred. The word is that it’s “Business as usual”. Precisely! The old greed and stupidity are making a comeback; and
- every 8 seconds, 1 million euro of new public debt is issued, squandering today the future of our children.”
So TUAC, ITUC and EI got a sympathetic hearing. Translating that into tangible policies for sustainable and equitable recovery will require much determined effort over the months to come, with every Finance Ministry and Head of Government in the OECD, at the G20, and in other countries.