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You are here : Home > News > Speeches > February 2005 > Speech by François Biltgen, Minister for Labour and Employment, at the 7th European Regional Conference of the International Labour Organization in Budapest from 14 to 18 February 2005
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Speech by François Biltgen, Minister for Labour and Employment, at the 7th European Regional Conference of the International Labour Organization in Budapest from 14 to 18 February 2005

Date of Speech : 15-02-2005

Place : Budapest

Speaker : François Biltgen

Policy area : Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs

Mr President,

Dear Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I should like to thank the International Labour Office (ILO) and the Hungarian Government for their initiative and for organising this European Regional Conference in Budapest.

I also wish to extend my thanks to the ILO and its Director General, Mr Juan Somavia, for the relevance and logic of the chosen subjects, as well as the high quality of the reports submitted.

The conference agenda clearly shows the increasingly profound interdependence of our world, not only at geographical level, but also at the level of the areas of political action.

As the Director General’s report raises specific issues around which our debate should revolve, I shall concentrate on certain aspects of the issues raised. I am sure that under the leadership of our President, whom I congratulate and to whom I lend my Government’s support, the debates will be productive and that the specific steps to be considered will be reflected in the final documents from the meeting.

First of all, I should like to formulate two more general remarks:

I believe that it is wrong to use the lukewarm economic situation as an argument for adopting measures which principally involve abandoning social cohesion. Social protection is and will remain a productivity factor, and therefore a competitivity factor. Workers who feel secure will  perform well. This is not the case with those who fear for their jobs, health, or even their pensions.

Economic growth does not automatically guarantee social protection. We need a voluntarist policy that combines growth, high-quality jobs, social cohesion and sustainable development.

My second wish is for this meeting to bring about specific follow-up perspectives. Why do we not define the next steps, a kind of road map, leading to an action plan that deals thematically and geographically with the issues raised in the Director General’s report, within the framework of the follow-up of the Halonen-M’Kapa report.

With regard to the subjects dealt with specifically in the report:

It is a fact that good governance guarantees acceptance, even consensus on the necessary measures. Imposing measures from above that would certainly be unpopular in part is unthinkable.

The Luxembourg Government is in favour of tripartite governance of the transition. Luxembourg has overcome its crises, the necessary transitions, thanks to tripartism, without making large economic and social sacrifices. Of course, the process may prove arduous and may take time. However, it guarantees social peace, which is a major advantage for all economies.

More generally, bipartite social dialogue is just as vital, whether at national level (interprofessional agreements) or at company or subsidiary level. Furthermore, my Government, which sets great store by a well-established culture of social intra-company dialogue, has recently introduced the option of interprofessional agreements between social partners at national level, although these are often better placed to find solutions adapted to very diverse situations, particularly among the different sectors.

Measures aimed at flexible security can succeed only as a result of social dialogue. In Luxembourg, the general framework of such measures is the result of a tripartite agreement at national level. This agreement which leads to the annual ‘employment’ action plan within the framework of the European Employment Strategy must be implemented through bipartite social dialogue at the appropriate levels.

Moreover, this process is the only way of proceeding without putting at risk a country’s social, or even societal fabric.

From another viewpoint, flexible security measures are effective only if they result in tangible and genuine goodwill on the company’s part (for instance, an employment guarantee or a permanent production site), on the one hand, and are counterbalanced by securitisation measures, on the other. Outright abandonment, for instance, of protective legislation against unfair dismissals is completely counterproductive. Employees in jobs that are not secure do not accept flexibility and, moreover, become less productive.

From an economic viewpoint, security is just as important as flexibility. Well-balanced flexible security ensures employment stability within the company and, therefore, stability of the company itself, while at the same time opening up employment avenues to vulnerable categories of workers.

The ILO should perhaps systemise disclosure of best practices, a kind of ‘peer review’, in a bid to continually persuade.

With regard to the debate on youth employment and elderly employees, I believe that it could, in future, be reoriented in a single large-scale debate on aspects of intergenerational employment. We must divert the current discussion which sets young and elderly employees against one another, both when they enter the employment market and when they are in employment.

Acceptance is essential within the framework of this discussion, particularly with regard to the employment rate of elderly workers.

At the moment, I do not think that these problems are really made clear to citizens. The debate is far too technical. We must simplify the discussion and explain, clearly and systematically, the challenges we face on the employment market in particular, and within the framework of financing social security.

The ILO can play a role in the process, by explaining and raising awareness, at least during the initial phase.

We will need to adopt a global approach. This will require intelligent management of work time during the day, week, month, year and throughout life, in order to create jobs for both young and more experienced employees, while at the same time establishing a realistic framework to prolong active life under acceptable terms and conditions. The way in which economies are currently working, at both micro and macro level, is in my view illogical. We cannot strive to prolong active life if we do not adapt working conditions.

This idea of intelligent work sharing must also encompass thoughts on aspects of gender and underprivileged categories of workers, including immigrants.

Such intelligent sharing of available work is the only way to facilitate life-long training, balancing of family life and careers, and so on.

As such an integrated approach may demand sacrifices from various parties, only a social partnership can provide a viable instrument with which to achieve the necessary reforms.

Thank you for your kind attention.


This page was last modified on : 21-02-2005

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