There are nearly 25 million unemployed in Europe, of whom more than 17 million are in the eurozone. One in five young people in the EU cannot find a job, that is nearly five million youngsters. In some countries the rate of youth unemployment exceeds 40 percent.
To open the interview euronews reporter Fariba Mavaddat reminded Guy Ryder, the newly elected Director of the United Nation’s International Labour Organisation, the ILO, of what he said in his inaugural speech in May: “It is a tremendous opportunity in the middle of this global crisis to make a difference to the lives of millions of people.’‘ So, how does he intend to do that?
Guy Ryder: “Well, you have described the drama of the European unemployment crisis and I really believe it is dramatic. What I said in my inaugural speech was that the ILO, if it is to be a success, has to touch the lives of these people.
“We can do it in very different ways. We can do it through working with the ILO member states. It is a world organisation with 185 member governments. We can do it through them, we can do it through cooperation activities, technical cooperation in a variety of ways, we can do it by trying to influence the international policy agenda, so that we can get the growth and job creation back into the world economy that is so badly missing at the moment.
“I think the ILO has a role in all of these areas and I intend to do my best to ensure that we fulfil that role.”
euronews: “You called on various governments for cooperation, but to what extend do you have authority ? Do you have teeth, and how sharp are they?”
Guy Ryder: “Like many international organisations we have to make a case for doing what we consider to be ‘the right thing’, offering people not only the opportunity of a job but what we call a ‘decent’ job; a job which pays at a level which offers you a decent standard of living.”
euronews: “That’s all very well, but it is the ideal world. What is happening in Europe in particular, is that governments and businesses are spreading jobs thin. That is, jobs are now being made available, if at all, on a temporary, part-time basis , but this creates not only uncertainty and insecurity but also social unrest and eventual poverty. How are you going to address that particular problem? These are the only jobs available.”
Guy Ryder: “You are quite right to point out not only the number of jobs we need to create but their quality.
“You know, temporary part-time jobs can have their place in a well-functioning labour market, but they have to be taken up as a choice, not as obligation in the absence of a full time secure job.
“We have a situation – particularly in Europe but around the world – where countries are having to look at their finances. We have been through the ‘hole’ of the financial crisis. This has left very big holes in public budgets, and often it is these worlds of work, the labour market which is having to feel the effects of austerity measures.
“I think we have to review this austerity path that we are on. I think the stage we have reached today shows that there is a need for a new start.
“Secondly, we have to prepare people for the world of work, we have to look at skills development for young people. We need specifically targeted plans. I would go for a universal youth guarantee that says any young person in that situation would be offered either job experience or further training when they leave school.”
euronews: “That’s very logical but the fact of the matter is that we are in a recession, there are no financial resources available. It is so bad that governments are nibbling off old people’s pensions. So for all this that you are talking about, you need financial resources, and they just don’t have it.”
Guy Ryder: “Oh, they do. I would argue that they do. Let’s take this example of the youth guaranteed scheme. It actually is a very cheap option for governments. Our estimates are that for 0.5 percent of overall government spending, you can provide a youth guaranteed scheme for all young people of this nature.
“It is not that expensive, you put your hand in your pocket. Past experience in countries like Sweden, countries like Finland, shows that these schemes are successful. They pay for themselves very, very quickly. Look at it as an investment not a cost, and you can move in the right direction.”
euronews: “You are talking about training. Training has a limited life span. That is, you go on training for a year or six months and then at the end of it it’s ‘Thank you very much, go home’. And the youth who has been trained, and whose expectations have gone up, ends up at home with no job.”
Guy Ryder: “It can work that way. That would be a failed experience. But experience shows that these things can give a much higher success rate than what you are indicating. I take the Swedish example which I quoted to you earlier on. They show that just under 50 percent of young people who went into those guaranteed schemes secured a permanent self-sustaining job. When they left the scheme, they went into a permanent job which was commercially viable. That is to say, work for a company, they weren’t subsided.
“I have just come from the European Union Employment Conference where these ideas are receiving very, very positive and focused attention. I think we are going in the right direction partly because I think people understand that with the levels of youth unemployment that we have today in Europe we do need change. I think policy makers know that we can’t carry on in the same direction.”
euronews: “These are small steps in the right direction, but by no means ideal. Here they have started talking about the ‘lost generation’. I’d go further than that and I talk about ‘lost generations’ because once one generation fails, then the following generations will fail as well. What we are talking about here is time. European governments are offering limited opportunities for training to a limited number of people and then expect the generation to lift itself up. There simply aren’t enough opportunities, and we are talking about lost generations.”
Guy Ryder: “I think the rhetoric – if I can call the matter the lost generation – is real. All the evidence shows that if the school leavers are out of the labour market for a year or more, it is very difficult for them to get back in; or if they do get back in, they get back in in very disadvantaged conditions. And it affects the whole trajectory of their working life right through the decades.
“So, the rhetoric of the lost generation is accurate. What I am saying with the youth employment schemes – it has to offer the opportunity to every young school leaver. It isn’t enough and you are quite right, it is not enough to pick up a few here and a few there and hope that that will make a difference. We need an all-encompassing policy.
“Now, this is all well and good, but we also need an economic environment where the economy begins to grow, where jobs are genuinely being created. I do understand very well that you are not going to create through special schemes permanent effective solutions within an economic situation where we are shrinking and shrinking and shrinking. So you need a favourable environment – and honestly we don’t have it today.”
euronews: “The ideal situation that you described will take time to arrive. How do you see the future?”
Guy Ryder: “It will take some time to get to where we need to be – which is to restore high levels of unemployment in Europe. It will take a long time, but that doesn’t mean we should delay beginning.
“The Chinese say a long journey starts with one step. That first step has to be taken, and today. In the employment conference from which I have come, we got extremely strong messages; political messages from the top level of the EU.
“European politicians understand the situation is urgent , the situation is dramatic and action has to start now. So there is no time to lose even if the results take time to come through.”