G8 talks seek to link environment, labor

Kyodo

Labor officials from the Group of Eight nations began on Sunday a three-day meeting to discuss ways to curb climate change coupled with measures to redress economic and regional inequalities.

It is the first time discussions linking labor issues with environmental policies have been attempted within the G8 framework. According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the participants in the Niigata meeting are aiming to provide momentum toward building a consensus on climate change at the G8 summit in July in Hokkaido.

During the talks Sunday, representatives of labor and employers’ groups urged governments to act swiftly and properly to improve unstable labor markets and tackle growing inequalities.

John Sweeney, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, called on the G8 to “ensure coordinating government actions to reduce rising risks of unemployment and support decent work” and “effective action to reduce regional inequalities.”

In the opening speech, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe said, “Our society is becoming more and more complex against the background of globalization and increasing longevity, and a resilient and sustainable society cannot be realized without devotion from workers and employers.”

Masuzoe turned out to be the only Cabinet minister attending the meeting. The other seven nations — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States — are being represented by vice ministers or other senior officials “because of conditions back in their countries,” according to a labor ministry official.

From the employers’ side, Peter Clever of the Confederation of German Employers’ Association, emphasized the importance of promoting vocational training system for sustainable employment.

Loes van Embden Andres of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Business and Industry Advisory Committee said, “More people should work and should work longer” in an aging society while calling for a flexible work style as well as flexible social protection systems for irregular workers.

According to statistics compiled by the OECD, more than a quarter of the total employment in Japan in 2005 consisted of part-time positions, of which about 68 percent were women. A similar trend has been shared by other G-8 nations as well, particularly Britain and Germany.

In their statement, participating labor unions from the G-8 nations also pushed for the introduction of “Green Jobs,” an International Labor Organization-led initiative of promoting environmentally friendly industries that take into consideration global warming effects.

Failure to address this matter properly “would entail catastrophic consequences for human society, the global economy and prospects for sustainable jobs,” the statement said, acknowledging that the policies should include energy saving, development of carbon separation technology and fair transfer to other industries of workers affected by climate change.

“The phrase ‘green job’ hasn’t taken root in the international community, but it’s important to have the standard of the value in deciding labor policies,” Masahiro Nogi, assistant director of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation’s international division, said in briefing reporters.

The International Trade Union Confederation has also noted that climate change may result in a 5 percent loss of annual production across the globe and that the trend may continue permanently if the issue is left unattended.