Media Center



October 17, 2001 - Ottawa, Canada

As Secretary General of the OAS, it is an honor for me to participate in this, the Twelfth Inter-American Conference of Ministers of Labor, being held here in this beautiful city of Ottawa, thanks to the generous hospitality of the government of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. We, the citizens of the Americas, are familiar with and appreciate the great qualities of Prime Minister Chrétien as a head of government, and his leadership and stature throughout the Hemisphere. Under his guidance, Canada has been an active, constructive participant in hemispheric affairs. In addition to hosting several of our most recent and important events, Canada has been a staunch advocate for our democratic agenda, for integration, and for international cooperation.

We appreciate the hospitality extended by the Honorable Claudette Bradshaw, Minister of Labor of Canada, who generously and enthusiastically offered to have her country host this meeting, and who has worked devotedly and painstakingly on conference preparations. Today, her diligent efforts have borne fruit as we all meet to hold this event of major import for our region. I thank her also for her kind and generous words.

I would like to pay tribute to Minister Solari, who so ably served as Chair pro tempore of the conference. I would also like to take this opportunity to summarize this hemispheric process that is a model of commitment and joint effort among the ministries, international cooperation and financing institutions, and the Technical Secretariat for which we were responsible. Our support and coordination would not have been possible without the invaluable support of the International Labour Organization (ILO) – the agency that specializes in the topics that bring us here to Ottawa. Also worthy of special recognition are the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which have all contributed enthusiastically to this process.

This conference also gives us the opportunity to learn about the labor model and labor relations in Canada. The Canadian system guarantees a safe, appropriate, and productive working environment, protects workers’ rights, encourages trade unions, recognizes collective bargaining, prevents discrimination, compensates workers in the event of an accident or illness, and guarantees a minimum wage. Dialogue and mutual respect among employers, trade unions, and government are the cornerstone of the system.

You, the Ministers, have laid the basis for powerful momentum by meeting more frequently --in Buenos Aires in 1995, in Viña del Mar in 1998-- and by verifying your own commitments at the Follow-up Meeting held in Washington, D.C. in 2000. The Quebec Summit reaffirmed the fundamental importance of the Inter-American Conference of Ministers of Labor, welcomed the report on the progress made in executing the Plan of Action, and directed the Ministers to build upon the labor dimension of the Summit process, a task that you will take up at this meeting. It also called for the development of new mechanisms to increase the effectiveness of projects, to help smaller economies implement labor laws and standards.

Since 1998, this conference has established two working groups that have dealt with the substantive issues facing countries in the region: economic globalization and its social and labor dimensions; and modernization of the State and labor administration. Those groups have meet on six occasions.

The first group focused on examining the social and labor dimensions of inter-American integration processes, employment policies and projects, vocational training and assistance for unemployed workers, experiences in these areas, labor relations, and social security.

The second group analyzed the information services that provide the empirical basis for policy making in the areas of employment trends and labor markets and the state of labor relations. This group also undertook to provide information on national practices with regard to oversight, workers’ rights, and collective bargaining. The state of labor administration was evaluated, and horizontal cooperation projects were designed and executed. Notable among these are projects on the administrative and operational reorganization of the ministries, training on preventive mediation, automation, and union registration, and the exchange of experiences with labor inspection and justice.

OAS funding has supported the promotion of small business through seminars that have linked associations of small business owners and by supporting the development of incubators to create jobs. In this framework, manuals were prepared for small business owners and managers to facilitate access to available electronic information.

The working groups have been strengthened by the presence, at their meetings, of the Conference’s advisory organs: the Trade Union Technical Advisory Council on Labor Matters (COSATE) and the Business Technical Advisory Committee on Labor Affairs (CEATAL). As the Technical Secretariat, we have also sought to post extensive information on the topics discussed and actions taken on the OAS web page.

Once again, I would like to stress that the role of the Technical Secretariat is to support the Chair pro tempore on ministerial agreements, and to serve as the focal point for communications and the repository for the historical memory of the Conference. At your request, there was follow-up of progress made in implementing the Plan of Action of Viña del Mar, in particular, through surveys on labor flexibility.

We feel that the establishment of comparative labor information systems on labor markets is very valuable. In the General Secretariat, we have developed 20 indicators with the support of the countries. We would like their impact and usefulness to be assessed. Those indicators supplement the ILO indicators used to conduct careful, representative analyses of the situation in the Hemisphere.

Thanks to the commitment of the labor ministries, a network of specialists and officials has been developed to support implementation of the commitments emanating from the Summit of the Americas. We feel that their formal participation could be enhanced by convening dialogues and seminars to promote the preparation of studies and documents that support implementation of the ministerial Conference agenda.

If you allow me, I would like to mention a few of the more striking aspects of the labor and social situation in the Hemisphere. Undoubtedly, the boundless optimism of the first half of the 1990s regarding the region’s growth prospects was quickly dampened by capital volatility crises, which had a highly adverse effect on our emerging economies. Since then, the Hemisphere has entered a period of low growth, barely moderate investment rates and, consequently, limited job creation, particularly the generation of high-productivity jobs.

Modest and unequal growth in employment in the region has been characterized, according to the ILO, by low employment growth rates, low wage levels, and a trend towards the creation of precarious, informal, and unstable jobs. It is known to all that the increase in demand has occurred in the skilled, as opposed to, the unskilled labor sector. This has all led to an increase in the wage differential, markedly different working conditions for the two groups, and very low demand for unskilled labor. Undoubtedly, technological change is producing new forms of production and the organization of production, which require new job skills.

This is what makes training and vocational programs so vital. The development of human capital is an essential tool in reconciling needs for competitiveness and the preservation of social equity. Competition for jobs and training requires increasing interaction between the educational and productive communities, which implies a combination of formal education, on-the-job training, and ongoing informal training. Recent Inter-American Development Bank research suggests that one additional year of education for the Latin American labor force would produce a one percentage point increase in the region’s rate of growth.

There is, therefore, no doubt, that job creation is the great challenge facing our governments and societies. As one of several key tasks, we need to encourage a serious alliance between the agents of production and the governments with a view to creating quality employment. In many instances, this can be achieved without a significant investment component. One example of this is the great potential for job creation at the local micro and community levels.

But we must also be clear that in order for employment to increase, productivity must also improve. This is achieved by reducing labor costs and by adopting new ways of organizing labor and production. In a democratic, fair society, these changes must be accompanied by mechanisms to protect workers, and must be agreed upon through consultation and social dialogue.

In the context of the American integration process now under way, countries have been forced to deal with the social dimension to these processes by making optimum use of the opportunities created, and by discerning the challenges posed. If there has been one consequence to the ministerial dialogue that has taken place in recent years, it is that there is now a proper definition of the social dimension in terms of employment policies, vocational training, education for work and ongoing training, labor mediation, and unemployment insurance.

However, consideration must also be given to the institutional framework in which fundamental labor principles and rights will be promoted, in keeping with the mandates of the Quebec Summit. This entails modern and efficient mechanisms for the enforcement of legislation, mechanisms that underscore prevention, while at the same time ensuring the application of core standards.

The Inter-American Democratic Charter of the OAS, which we adopted recently in Lima, incorporates these notions and has given them enormous political legitimacy by making them an indispensable component of democracy. This opens up vast opportunities for supporting the labor dimension, an area that the Ministers are now exploring in-depth. The Democratic Charter recognizes as essential to the realization of democratic ideals the right of workers to associate freely for the defense and promotion of their interests; and, in Article 10, the OAS member states indicate that "The promotion and strengthening of democracy requires the full and effective exercise of workers’ rights and the application of core labor standards, as recognized in the International Labour Organization Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and its Follow-up, adopted in 1998" and they also note that "Democracy is strengthened by improving standards in the workplace and enhancing the quality of life for workers in the Hemisphere."

Furthermore, the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in Lima, which coincided with the terrorist attacks against the United States and took place in the presence of Secretary of State Colin Powell, is an event fraught with symbolism. It represents the repudiation of terrorism and a reaffirmation of the will of OAS member states to strengthen and consolidate democratic values within the Hemisphere.

Ministers of Labor:

The process leading us to the establishment of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is now fully under way. Negotiations to reach the agreement that will establish this area should conclude by January 2005. We must be prepared to reap the benefits that the expansion of trade will bring by having in place an increasingly more educated and competitive workforce. At the same time, we must ensure that the economic benefits translate into improved social conditions and greater equity. The FTAA must help us ensure that there will be more winners as a result of globalization, especially, in labor markets, and that the losers will enjoy social security and an education system that will retrain them to re-enter job markets.

Ministers of Labor:

Since September 11, all acts of the peoples of our region can be seen as acts of reconstruction and defense of those values that unite us, values that inform our collective behavior: democracy, respect for human rights, the quest for peace, equality, social justice, pluralism, diversity, and non-discrimination. And each of these acts is a triumph over the violent, over those who would like to see this century be the first to usher in an age of darkness and fanaticism. This meeting is an act of faith in our civilization, and must reaffirm our conviction about the type of society that we, the citizens of all the Americas, wish to develop. I congratulate you for that, and wish you every success in your deliberations.

Thank you very much.