12:14 PM May 29, 1997
LABOUR: CONCERNS OVER EMPLOYMENT, SOCIAL SECURITY REFORMSGeneva, 29 May (Chakravarthi Raghavan) -- The ILO's Committee of Experts has expressed its particular concern that in the search for "efficiency" and emphasis on competition fair treatment of labour is increasingly likely to suffer and its own ability to supervise a whole range of international labour standards is being jeopardised. The concern of the 19-member body, consisting of juridical experts well-versed in labour matters, has been conveyed in its report to the 85th session of the International Labour Conference which opens here on 3 June and will run till 19 June. Besides its report on the implementation of individual conventions to which members are a party, the report of the Committee of Experts has touched on some general issues. In general comments on the application of the employment policy convention (ratified by some 87 countries), the Experts underline that the goal of full, productive and freely chosen employment embodied in the Convention (no 122) remains the basic policy of the ILO and its constituents and "it would be failing the trust of the workers to accept anything less as an objective, difficult though it may to attain." Challenges of employment and social problems have arisen from many causes -- increased international competitivity, globalization of markets and transition of some countries to a market economy. But employment policy must be part of an overall strategy. The Committee's discharge of its responsibilities for supervision of the whole range of international standards is being jeopardized as working conditions, employment stability and workers' individual dignity and freedom of choice are severely limited by economic pressures. The Committee is particularly concerned that in the search for 'efficiency' and the emphasis on competition, the fair treatment of labour is increasingly likely to suffer. The report emphasizes the need for incisive analysis of the overall economic framework and effects of fiscal and monetary policies on employment and the operation of the labour market. When macro-economic and structural adjustment policies are formulated and applied, the employment policy goals should be kept in view. And while the interpretation of the ILO objective of achieving full employment may be different for developing countries, full employment is a valid objective, the Experts stress, and suggest that the International Labour Office (the secretariat) consider how the supervisory process in regard to Convention 122 (employment policy) might be brought more into the mainstream of the organizations activities in the employment sphere. "The search for the maximisation of productive employment, fairly rewarded for all who seek it is an endless task. And although the methods of achieving it and the national circumstances change, the underlying aim must surely be constant." In general comments on the application of the conventions on social security, the Experts Committee has drawn attention to the fundamental change of the social security system under way in many countries as a part of the economic reforms and need to maintain financial viability and cost-effectiveness. Reforms appear to be under way for almost all types of long- and short-term benefits -- old-age, invalidity, survivors', sickness, unemployment and family benefits, as well as medical care -- and an increasingly large part of the population is being affected by these changes. The measures taken include: reducing the coverage; lengthening periods of contribution, employment and residency; narrowing the definition of the contingency; reducing the period for which a benefit is payable; reducing the level of benefit; and increasing cost-sharing for medical care. Economic considerations appear also to be the driving force which has led certain governments to seek to reduce their own responsibilities by simultaneously increasing the role of private institutions and transferring some benefit provisions, in particular sickness benefit to employers. Increasing the privatization has also occurred in respect of pension provisions. Such changes in the structure of social security, the Committee observes, might in fact go beyond experimenting with new forms of management of social security schemes within the framework of accepted principles. While most recent international labour standards on social security have been drafted in a flexible manner, nevertheless they law down certain principles regarding organization and management of the social security system and call for representatives of persons protected to participate in the management of the schemes. The State must also accept general responsibility for due provision of benefits and for the proper administration of the institutions and services concerned. The 1952 Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention also requires that social security systems shall be financed collectively by means of insurance contributions or taxation or both so that risks are spread among the members of the community. "The Committee is bound to draw the governments' attention to the need to safeguard, in the process of reform, these basic principles of organization and management which should continue to underlie the structure of the social security systems." The Committee notes that ongoing reforms, in many countries, have become the subject of intense political debates and even social confrontations, and their impact on the welfare of the populations should not be under-estimated. "The Committee considers that changes of such magnitude in the social security system require a carefully balanced approach based on a clear long-term vision formulated in consultation with all the major social and political forces in the countries concerned. "The Committee is led to observe that acute financial pressure and imperatives of short-term savings often induce governments to seek uncoordinated cuts in social security expenditures." The Committee recognizes the need to have financially viable social security schemes maintaining a proper balance between the immediate interests of contributors and those of present and future beneficiaries. However, it stresses that "immediate financial considerations, however important, should not take precedence over the need to preserve the stability and effectiveness of the social security system, and any reductions in social security expenditures should be carried out in the framework of a coherent policy to achieve viable long-term solutions ensuring required level of social protection." On the application of the 1949 Protection of Wages Convention, the Experts note with concern the increase in number of cases of delayed payment of wages, non-payment or partial payment of wages in a growing number of countries of Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America. The extent of delays vary from a few months to four years and adds up to considerable sums which keep growing, making it all the more difficult to settle the dues, the Committee observers. It adds: "even if these situations have their origin in economic and financial difficulties caused by the transition to a market economy or implementation of structural adjustment programmes, their scope and persistence may have been aggravated by the failure of the States concerned to take measures to ensure respect of laws, which in most countries stipulate adequate protection of workers against delayed payment, non-payment or partial payment of wages." Such delays have serious social consequences, the Committee underlines and has appealed to all states who have ratified the conventions to take all possible measures to ensure application in practice. It has also appealed to others who have not ratified these conventions to take measures to do so.