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L20, press conference, G20 International Media Centre, Brisbane

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Sharan Burrow, General Secretary International Trade Union Confederation: Good afternoon. This is the L20, the representatives of the trade union movement, both in Australia and globally. We've been at every G20 since Washington and, of course, we have worked to build an effective social dialogue with both the leaders of nations and indeed the employers in an effort to ensure that we have a global economy that is, in fact, rebuilt, that does look towards quality jobs, that is able to provide a fair base of wages, and, indeed, that can deal with the big issues of the world, like climate and so on.

My name is Sharan Burrow.  I'm the General Secretary of the International Confederation. And I'm going to hand, first of all, to John Evans to give you an assessment of what it is that we support in the current communique and what we're still lobbying leaders about.

We've met with a number of leaders and all of the heads of the international institutions, and we'll give you an assessment of where we think this G20 is actually on the right track and where it isn't.

Let me say, though, it's very important because when we surveyed our own members, workers around the world, their confidence about the implementation of G20 commitments to date is actually quite low.

People think that 56 per cent of the commitments have been implemented to some extent but that the impact has been negligible or negative. And that the really big issues - the issues we'll talk about to you, like wages, like job creation, like opportunities for skills and inclusion of young people and women - have yet to be delivered.

So, with that, I'm going to tell you that our preoccupation is that four in 10 working people around the world have suffered unemployment or reduced working hours, and one in two - 50 per cent - of working families globally cannot make ends meet, cannot pay their bills.

This is a very serious indictment of an economy that's not working for working people. And this G20 will be judged on the commitments it makes to turn around an economy that is both inclusive, that deals with inequality, and actually sets people back to work with fair wages. John Evans.

John Evans, General Secretary Trade Union Advisory Committee: Thanks very much, Sharan. So I'm representing both the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD and also to the ITUC. And jointly we really prepare the L20 input to the G20 process.

Perhaps a word on context and then what do we think of likelihood of progress, or what's missing, as Sharan said, this week here in Brisbane. And then where do we go from here as a labour movement internationally, what we would like to see. In terms of context, I mean we're now six years after the original Lehmann Brothers crash, and basically countries shouldn't be here, economies shouldn't be in this situation now.

Unemployment globally is still rising. Inequality is still rising. In fact, growth projections have been revised downwards now seven times by the OECD and the IMF since 2001 when policies shifted from trying to support the global economy, whilst private confidence restored, investment picks up and family incomes were restored, to really, certainly in Europe, policies of austerity and policies of pushing - reducing protection of workers.

So we feel those are the wrong policies. There needs to be a shift of thinking.

And certainly at the same time we believe that the policies which are agreed to in communiques need to be applied, need to be enforced, there need to be mechanisms to put in place. Otherwise there will just be growing cynicism about these meetings and a lack of follow-through, a lack of follow-up.

So we're looking, really, at this meeting but beyond, to try to break into the cycle of lack of trust, a cycle of many cases fear and insecurity, which we think, as Sharan’s and our polling has suggested, is really the reality for most working people in G20 countries and beyond.

So I think what we agree on with what we know about coming out of this particular summit in Brisbane is certainly that there's going to be a focus on infrastructure. We think that's absolutely necessary. I think we feel that the public sector has to take a lead in that.

And perhaps, not surprisingly, but we do take the same position as the IMF and the international financial institutions who produced their recommendations last week, that, quite frankly, with overall interest rates as low as they are, states should actually invest in public infrastructure.

So we see a role of that in the key area, we see that one pillar of going forward for growth. But the other pillar that we feel is absolutely necessary for growth, which is totally missing on this agenda, at least the agenda of the current presidency, is how you try to put purchasing power back in the hands of families. Now, as I said before, we've seen inequality rising in a number of G20 countries.

The growth which has taken place, both in the two decades before 2008 and subsequently since 2008, has gone to a very small proportion of the population. In the United States, the top 1 per cent has actually captured nearly 50 per cent of all increase in income. So it's not surprising that that - those resources, that growth, is not going back in to restoring purchasing power, increasing demand, increasing the real economy.

It's actually going to just support balance sheets of very rich people. So our message, essentially, of what is missing, one of the missing elements here in Brisbane, is basically trying to link the question of fair distribution, raising wages and putting that into the mechanisms to get growth going.

And it's not surprising, not any surprise I think, that precisely the sort of forecasts which have been predicted now have been revised downwards again and again. Now that's not on the agenda this time. We tried to put it to some extent at the Labour Ministers’ Meeting in Melbourne in September. But we're still working here with several governments who feel it's essential that we get questions of inclusive growth, the need to redistribute, raise wages at the current time to try and stimulate growth.

We've done our own modelling and, as Sharan said, we think that by a mixture of raising the share of wages in national income, which has fallen by 10 percentage points over the previous two and a half decades, together with a stimulus and public investment, we could actually get beyond the 2 per cent forecast or the 2 per cent target of the G20 Finance Ministers and actually increase, over the next five years, growth of up to 6 per cent.

So that’s the position, that we feel you've got to have more balanced growth. The other factor is we're questionable about some of the modelling which has gone on to achieve the 2 per cent. The models which have been used in the current discussions in the G20 are based upon assuming full employment, which we don't.

So you're actually begging the question. If you assume, yes, we're going to have full employment and what could you do to try to raise growth potential, fine, you'll get those figures. They don't tell you what you need to do actually create jobs in the short term, which is our priority.

The second, I think, big missing factor here is the other key issue - not just inclusion and the question of fairness, which is, I think, one of the crucial issues for the global economy – it’s trying to tackle climate change.

And we are trying to bring our members, our organisations, our constituents, into strategies for how do we manage climate transition and create jobs and livelihoods at the same time as making sure that those jobs are sustainable.

So it's kind of, to us, amazing that at this particular summit meeting, two of the key issues affecting most of our members around the world are just not being discussed at the moment or are not initially on the table.

So we’ve been meeting with a lot of the heads of state, a lot of the sherpas, and trying to see what we can do to push that further forward. The last point I'd make is that, looking forward, we did manage to reach agreement with the Business 20. We have a joint letter which has been sent to Prime Minister Abbott last week by the B20 and the L20 signed by Sharan and by Richard Goyder, the chair of the Australia G20 this year, where we actually say some common things together.

We support infrastructure, but we also talk about wages, we talk about fair taxation, also on corporations, and we talk about the need to prioritise employment and reduce informality. So looking forward, even though the fact we didn't have a joint meeting with the heads of state and business, which we've had in previous years here, we've been going in our bilateral talks and we'll try and continue to push that ahead as we move to the Turkish presidency.

Perhaps one last point is that the employment track of the G20 - and this is something we certainly agree with the Australian presidency - on the employment side has both transformed what was a task force into a more permanent working group. I think that will help us to ensure that employment issues are more permanently on the agenda for the G20, which we think essential.

And they've also put forward a target, which we support, a reduction of 25 per cent in the exclusion of women from the economy, the gender gap, by 2025. So there are areas we're going to work on. There’s areas we’re going to work on with employers. And we feel some of these issues are just too important to be left off the agenda as we move forward in the current situation of the global economy.

Sharan Burrow: Thank you, John. John is, as he said, the Secretary of the advisory committee, Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD, but he's the Chief Economist for the International Trade Union Confederation. Ged Kearney needs no introduction. She is the President, of course, of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and I'll hand over to you, Ged.

Ged Kearney, President Australian Council of Trade Unions: Thanks, Sharan. And thank you, and John, for, I think, a very good summary of where we're at, Labour’s priorities and where you think we’re tracking on those. I think from my perspective, and from the Australian Council of Trade Union's perspective, there is a lot, on the face of it, to like about what's on the agenda of this G20.

I mean they talk about growth, which is very positive. They talk about jobs. They talk about infrastructure and nation-building infrastructure as a means to achieve some growth. They talk about women's participation. They talk about youth unemployment.

And these are all things that Australia is not immune from. We all have problems to deal with. We have record high youth unemployment. Unemployment generally is very high at the moment in Australia. We are very worried. One of the key concerns of all Australian workers right now is job security and whether or not they will have a job in the future.

These are things that concern Australia very much, and we're pleased that they are on the agenda. I guess the key for us is, and what John and Sharan have been referring to, is, well, what on earth are we going to do about them? That is what we want to know.  Australian workers want to know that the world's leaders are going to have the right approach, that when we do look at jobs, that they look at decent jobs. You know, a job is not just a job.

If it doesn't deliver you a living, and if a job doesn't deliver you dignity, then really then it's not necessarily a job worth having that we would think. And we've heard from world leaders today those two things aren't mutually exclusive. You can have jobs growth and you can have jobs that are decent jobs that give you a living and dignity. But I guess we're also a little bit worried about what's not on the agenda, as John said.

And we do not want this G20 to be the G20 that is famous for what was missed and what was not talked about, rather than what was achieved. And it is a great shame that inequality is not fairly and squarely at the top of the agenda for this G20. And we're saying it's very difficult to even sort of get anyone to mention the word, so far, in any of the communiques that we've had.

Climate, of course, Australia is very concerned, Australian unions, that climate is not on the agenda. Again, we know that a lot of the world leaders are very keen to talk about climate and we are hopeful that maybe, at the end of the day, it will be. We're also quite concerned that the Australian Government has seemed to have gone out of their way not to have good dialogue with Labour this G20, something, as Sharan has said, is totally out of step with previous meetings.

So from our perspective, also domestically, we see a Government that, whilst they're talking about all of these things here at the G20, the very policies that they are introducing here in Australia does not complement the plans that we think the world leaders want to see out of this agenda. And we have a Government that, unfortunately, is dismantling social protection, that is clearly not taking off decreasing the minimum wage, or lowering the minimum wage.

In fact, in some of the meetings we've attended we've heard discussions from Australia about actually doing that, the need to lower minimum wages, instead of raise minimum wages in Australia. We have a Government that is not, I guess, connected at all with the Labor movement in this country and is determined, it seems, to decrease the power of the collective when it comes to the union movement.

So it seems to be a little bit of a disconnect between what is being discussed by world leaders and what is happening domestically for us. And I guess one of our hopes out of the G20 - that something clicks and maybe we see a change of heart with the policy direction of our own Government.

Sharan Burrow: Thank you, Ged. And, indeed, Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the British Trade Union Confederation – Trade Union Congress, I should say. Sorry. Frances.

Frances O'Grady, General Secretary British Trades Union Congress: Very briefly, Sharan, I think the leaders will have to answer one big question when this G20 show leaves town, and that's whether working people are going to be any better off as a result. Are they going to give them hope that they're going to get decent jobs and decent wages?

Is there going to be any certainty that we're going to cut carbon or not? And that's the big test and the big challenge facing leaders here.

Sharan Burrow: Thank you, Frances. Well, in summary we would say that it would appear that the Australian G20 presidency has put deliberate silences into the discussion, because we don't understand, as my colleagues have said, how you can have growth without reducing inequality. The 2 per cent growth target we support.

But if you don't look at inequality, which is soaring as a macro-economic risk, it will take three times that - in the same period three times that - 6 per cent to 7 per cent off GDP growth. And that means you have to talk about jobs, about wages, about social protection in the context of demand. It was on the agenda in Russia. It's not on the agenda here. You can't talk about energy without climate.

It's very simple for the trade union movement - there are no jobs on a dead planet. We have to de-carbonise our society and we need to make the industrial transition that will protect and create jobs for the future. Industries of today will be, largely, the industries of tomorrow, but they must be low-carbon industries in foundation.

You can't have tax without transparency. The tax agenda we absolutely support. Multinational corporations are ripping off billions of dollars from the poorest citizens in the world, and the revenue base of government is poorer and, therefore, public services are poorer as a result of that.

So absolutely we support base erosion and profit shifting, but the transparency - knowing who the real owner of the companies is, beneficial ownership registers - that's critical. You can't have women's participation. Again, we all support 25 per cent by ‘25. We've been part of the advocacy of that through the labour ministerial discussion, but you can't do that without investment in the enabling services, aged care, child care, health, education.

So we want to see that on the agenda for Turkey going forward.

Of course, we think you cannot talk about infrastructure without talking about a different investment model - the long-term investment principles that the G20 leaders endorsed in the last two G20s, but need to be implemented and new pools of funding that guarantee a return, particularly on workers' income.

We have $30 trillion invested in the global economy, but we need new funding arrangements to push money into developing countries or that inequality we talked about is actually just going to deepen. So it's the deliberate silences that we're disturbed about, in terms of the way the Australian presidency has shaped this discussion.

We know leaders are pushing back. We've been talking to them, lobbying other heads of state. We know they want these issues on the agenda and we hope they succeed, because that's the foundation for rebuilding a just society as well as sustainable economies for the future.

And I might say it is disappointing, as an Australian - now, of course, living abroad - but I'm very disappointed that it's my own country that has not engaged in the social dialogue that's been built through successive G20s, where the employers and the workers – indeed, we would say civil society as well - but for employers and workers, we are the actors in the real economy.

And for the Australian presidency, Tony Abbott, not to meet with Labour and not to meet jointly with Labour and employers, has been a shock to us. And we know that there are leaders who’ve made a protest about that and they will, in fact, support this going forward into Turkey. Finally, can I say that the Turkish Prime Minister last night gave us great hope.

He put a whole range of the issues like inclusive growth, climate and, indeed, refugees on the table. We have the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. It's not even on the agenda here, but it will be next year in Turkey.

So we will build on the basis of this G20, but we would hope before tomorrow that some of these silences have actually been remedied. Over to you for questions. Yes, down the back.

Journalist: You spoke about Russia. Now, my question is towards the sanctions that has been announced by US and European Union and also Australia, Australia in particular regarding agriculture. Now, do you find these sanctions to have an effect on the jobs here in Australia and the trade between the two countries?

Sharan Burrow: I don't know that I've seen any statistics about that. I can tell you I've stood in Belarus and watched them develop a seafood industry in a landlocked country. And I have seen cheeses made in Italy stamped “Made in Belarus”. But look - sanctions are part and parcel of geopolitical discussions. Our position as workers is quite clear - wherever there's a conflict, you know, freedom of association and democracy is essential. And wherever there's a conflict, then that should be sorted by dialogue and not by military intervention. Any other questions? No? You're an easy crowd. Thank you very much and let's hope that we see an outcome we can all support.

Publish Date: 
Saturday, 15 November 2014 - 6:30pm

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