During the 19th Inter-American Conference of the OAS, they undertook to continue promoting decent and dignified labour, social inclusion and sustainable development

A total of 24 countries were present on 3rd and 4th December in Cancun at the 19th Inter-American Conference of Ministers of Labour (IACML), where they presented and analysed a number of initiatives that seek to improve the labour market. This forum was held for the first time in 1963, making it the oldest conference within the Organisation of American States (OAS).

The meeting ended with the signing of the Cancun Declaration and Action Plan which, under the title, ‘Building decent work with social inclusion and sustainable development in the Americas’, contains a new consensus on priorities and actions to be taken in the field of labour and employment in the region. The first of the documents includes 29 points with which the Ministers have reiterated their commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, equal opportunities, collective bargaining, decent work, the strengthening of education systems, training and public employment services, or the protection of the rights of migrant workers. In addition, on occasion of the tenth anniversary of the creation, within the IACML framework, of the Inter-American Network for Labour Administration (RIAL), the text includes the commitment to continue supporting this agency financially; an agency that, since 2005, has effectively improved the protection of workers’ rights.

The strong point of the Cancun Declaration is the implementation of an ambitious action plan to which the Member States will dedicate economic, technical and logistical resources. It establishes two working groups to examine all the topics identified in greater detail. The first focuses on integrated public policies promoting productive employment and decent work, including social inclusion. One of the points of this section speaks of the need to strengthen intersectoral collaboration between the Ministries of Labour and Education to “improve the training of the workforce, especially in the case of young people, in accordance with the development needs of our countries and the requirements of the productive sectors”. The second working group will bring together all the initiatives put forward in the Declaration relating to institutional strengthening with a view to protecting the rights of workers and employers and the promotion of cooperation in the field of employment. As the Conference stressed the importance of intergovernmental cooperation, the Ministers of Labour are committed, through the action plan, to share information regularly on the implementation of labour and employment policies.

“Troubling” increase in unemployment

The opening of the IACML was attended by the director for the Americas of the International Labour Organization (ILO), José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs; the employment ministers from Colombia and Mexico, Luis Eduardo Garzón and Alfonso Navarrete, and the Executive Secretary for Integral Development of the OAS, Neil Parsan. Salazar-Xirinachs announced that the regional unemployment rate will rise to 6.6 per cent in 2015, compared with 6 per cent for the previous year, when “historical lows” were achieved. In this regard, he considered that this increase is “very worrying” and is “just the tip of the iceberg”, since “the slowdown also affects job quality”. The ILO representative urged the ministers present to “tackle the more long-term, more structural problems” in the region, including the “insufficient productive diversification, gaps in productivity or the deficiencies” in education and training.

The Minister of Labour from Mexico, Alfonso Navarrete, agreed that there is an incipient negative trend in the labour market. He warned that the unemployment rate in the region is expected to continue increasing in the second half of the year, which “will entail complex labour-related scenarios for vulnerable groups, mainly the young, who will find it difficult to find formal and high quality employment”. In the region, 13.3 per cent of young people are unemployed, almost triple the rate of adults and more than double the average general rate.

A similar situation affects women, whose participation and employment rates stand at 49.5% and 45.5%, while the figures for men are 71.3% and 67.3%. “The integration of women in the labour market may still grow significantly”, said Navarrete, stressing that the female unemployment rate is 9.1%, “almost 1.5 times higher than the rate for men”. The situation is even worse in the case of people with disabilities. It has been estimated that between 80 and 90 per cent are unemployed or have not joined the labour market and those who work are not paid proper wages or work for free”.