Media Center

Press Release


  September 12, 2007

The hemisphere’s labor ministers opened their fifteenth Inter-American conference in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on Tuesday night, underscoring “decent work” as vital to the social and economic development for the nations of the Americas. The three-day Inter-American Conference of Ministers of Labor (IACML), under the theme of “Making Decent Work Central to Social and Economic Development,” also emphasizes the importance of development based on “putting people first” and on fighting poverty and inequity.

In his opening remarks, Secretary General José Miguel Insulza of the Organization of American States (OAS) stressed decent work as the only way to bring about meaningful development. “The improvement of living conditions for workers, and the provision of better access to an income, is perhaps the only way to achieve overall development of our societies,” declared Insulza.

Acting Permanent Secretary in the Trinidad and Tobago Labor Ministry, Carl Francis, in welcoming the ministers and delegates, highlighted the importance his government attaches to the issues related to labor and decent work, which the Conference will consider. Also addressing the inaugural session were International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Director General, Juan Somavía; Mexico’s Minister of Labor and Social Welfare and Chair Pro Tempore of the Fourteenth IACML, Javier Lozano Alarcón; and Minister of State in the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of National Security, Fitzgerald Hinds, speaking on behalf of Minister of Labor and Small and Micro Enterprise Development Danny Montano, who was elected earlier in the day as Chairman of the [current] Fifteenth IACML.

“Decent jobs for all citizens of the Americas is really possible, albeit a challenge,” Insulza went on to state, noting that the region has the resources necessary for everyone to be able to bring home a decent income, which means enough to live on, and working under conditions that do not put their lives or health at risk. He added that five million jobs per year will need to be created just to keep the region’s overall unemployment rates at current levels.

Jobs are at the heart of the quest for equality, stability and democratic development, Insulza asserted, reiterating his view that Latin America and the Caribbean as a region together “is not poor,” because of the relatively strong standing in per capita income compared to other regions. However, much needs to be done to redress existing levels of poverty and injustice.

Secretary General Insulza presented an overview of the labor-related commitments undertaken by the region’s heads of state and heads of government at their last Summit of the Americas, in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in November 2005. He said he hopes the labor ministers can report progress by the countries with respect to the Summit commitments on fighting poverty and on decent work.

On the concept of decent work, Insulza stated that its integral approach reaffirms the core nature of the dignity of individuals. “A human being works not just to earn her or his living but to develop the skills to attain social recognition and feel and reassert his or her own worth and self-esteem,” he remarked. Insulza pointed to OAS activities that complement and reinforce the promotion of decent work, including “our effort to deepen the implementation and understanding of the principles set forth in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.” He said this Charter emphasizes democracy and economic and social development as intertwined and mutually-reinforcing, and describes poverty as an obstacle to the development of democracy. That concept, he added, enjoins governments to promote and observe social and economic rights, and respect the rights of workers.

Insulza described discussions underway in the OAS towards the adoption of a hemispheric social charter to complement the Democratic Charter as “the clearest expression of the hemisphere’s political will to forge ahead in the quest for social justice and toward compliance with social commitments, such as those expressed in the Millennium Development Goals.”

For his part, Mr. Somavía presented a historical perspective of the concept of decent work, reiterating the need to address issues such as the imbalance with respect to labor, the promotion of a social competitiveness edge by countries, the position of youth, a “deficit of dialogue” and how the changing jobs scenario is likely to impact climate change topics.

The Mexican Labor Minister argued that despite signs of overall economic recovery in the hemisphere in recent years, insufficient income levels for many sectors of the population remain a significant challenge. He also addressed what he views as a “clear disconnect between education and the labor market.”

And, Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister Hinds viewed the current meeting as an important step in shaping the hemispheric labor agenda. He also outlined the initiatives by the Trinidad and Tobago government in pursuance of the Summit of the Americas commitments on labor and decent work, noting as well gains such as a relatively low unemployment rate, a stable industrial relations environment and the modernization of the country’s labor laws, with particular emphasis on upgraded occupational safety and health provisions. He described the new provisions as a “revolutionary and model” piece of legislation.

Before the session ended, OAS Secretary General Insulza and ILO Director General Somavía signed a memorandum of understanding for further cooperation between the two organizations.

Reference: E-214/07