Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


December 7, 2017 - Bridgetown, Barbados

* Check against delivery*

Let’s focus our efforts on generating and broadening opportunities for progress for ALL citizens and protect the social and economic gains achieved in recent years, particularly as we are confronted with an evolving world market and the rapid transformation of the global economy.

Minister Byer Suckoo and other distinguished representatives of the Government of Barbados
Ministers of Labor and heads of delegations
Colleagues from International, Labor and employment organizations

Ladies and Gentlemen

• It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the XX Inter-American Conference of Ministers of Labor. I want to thank our host, Minister Byer -Suckoo, and the Government of Barbados for welcoming us to this beautiful island, and for Barbados’ leadership in ensuring the success of this conference.

• When Ministers gathered for the first Inter-American Conference of Ministers of Labor, over 50 years ago they could not have imagined the rapid technological transformation which has seized our societies today in what is being termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution. New Technologies are prompting major changes, in the world of work where traditional occupations rapidly disappear, forcing us all to grasp not only with the ever evolving technologies but with new forms of economic interactions characterized by the emergence of the “sharing” economy.

• While the founders of this conference may not have foreseen the work environment that we are faced with today, they nonetheless saw the importance of ensuring that our region took collective action on that which is fundamental to the well-being of the people of this region; having dignified, productive and decent jobs, which allows them to provide for themselves, their families and their communities and where their social, cultural and human rights are respected. These concepts are as relevant today as they were 50 years go.

• Far from being idealistic, having a work environment that enables talent, skills and abilities to be cultivated, nurtured and fairly rewarded is essential for the economic survival of our region.

• It is therefore fitting that the theme chosen for this meeting focuses on the advancement of social justice and decent work to achieve sustainable development.

My Friends:

• This Ministerial meeting is being held at a time when our region faces a period of slow recovery . The consensus forecast of market analysts projects an increase in the gross domestic product of Latin America and the Caribbean of 1.2% in 2017 and 2.3% in 2018.

• According to the World Bank, 40% of the region´s population is vulnerable and prone to slipping back into poverty in the face of an internal or external economic shock or a natural disaster.

• Over 130 million people work in the informal economy. This means they have insecure and precarious jobs, which impedes their ability to build sustainable livelihoods.

• Progress on formal employment in recent years has been limited because labor informality remains a structural problem. In many countries the number of informal workers, whether salaried or self-employed, exceeds those in the formal sector, representing in some cases up to 60% of the labor market. Informality predominates particularly among self-employed workers and employees of small and micro enterprises.

• These statistics have major implications for the discussions that you will engage in over the next few days and the course of action that you will set to help our region emerge from this challenging era. It is important to ensure that we move beyond dialogue towards the implementation of policies, programs and concrete actions that are necessary to build the workforce of the future , and secure the sustainable livelihoods for all.

• Equally relevant is the need to ensure that in addressing the challenges we face with regard to labor and employment, we pay close attention to our education systems.

• We know that progress made in the labor market is closely linked to the years of schooling of our youth and, most importantly, to the quality of education they receive. Those with lower levels of education have consistently experienced worse labor conditions all across the region.

• Access to education in terms both of quantity and quality has a direct impact on upward social mobility. While Intergenerational social mobility in the region has improved it remains very limited. Parents’ education and income levels still substantially influence their children’s outcomes and incomes. We must therefore take the critical steps to build an education system that is directly linked to the growth trajectory of the region.

• Our ability to thrive in this competitive global economy is dependent on our ability to build a workforce which is innovative and can create and take new high quality products and services to market quickly and efficiently.

• This can only be achieved if our education systems keep up with the pace of development. In this regard, I am very pleased to see that the agenda of this meeting includes a discussion between Education and Labor Ministers.

• In the Caribbean region, recent climatic events have prompted vigorous debate on the issue of building resilience. In so doing however, we must remain cognizant of the fact that resilience is about people – resilient communities and countries require resilient people and so building the Human Resources capacity of the region must be at the heart of this effort.

• Above all my dear Friends, Respecting labor rights, enforcing labor legislation and expanding employment opportunities for all the people of this hemisphere must remain central to the work we undertake as an Inter-American community.

• Broadening opportunities for all citizens has been at the center of our strategy at the OAS, as we repositioned the organization to become a beacon for the defense of human rights and democracy in the hemisphere- “More rights for more people” our emblematic mission means exactly that.

• In the face of the major collective challenges we face as a region, dialogue, cooperation and partnerships have become all the more relevant and necessary, and spaces like this one -the OAS Inter-American Conference of Ministers of Labor- provides us with the unique opportunity to bring governments, employers and workers together to build consensus around the key labor priorities and to define specific actions to propel our countries forward.

• I thank each of you for taking the time to be here and look forward to our ongoing engagement on this issue. I especially want to recognize the ILO Regional Director for the Americas, José Manuel Salazar for the ILO’s continued partnership with the OAS.

• Ministers, delegates, representatives of workers and employers, colleagues, the OAS takes seriously its role as a leader in this hemisphere and will continue to pursue avenues for shared prosperity and well-being of all people.

• I thank you.