I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.
The Candidate Countries Montenegro* and Albania*, the EFTA country Norway, member of the European Economic Area align themselves with this statement.
Dear Chair, distinguished delegates. The discussion shows that inequalities manifest themselves in many ways and forms. The discussion on drivers of inequalities takes us directly into the debate of effective policy responses.
As explained in our opening statement, the reduction of inequality is our clear priority both internally, as enshrined in EU treaties and reflected in the European Pillar of Social Rights, and externally, as the European Consensus on Development enhances our efforts towards eradicating poverty, reducing vulnerabilities, and addressing inequalities to ensure that no-one is left behind.
The fundamentals for reducing inequality are already incorporated in the ILO and its constitution making clear that labour is not a commodity. Similarly, it considers the realisation of freedom of expression and of association as well as importance of democracy as being essential to sustain progress.
With the European Pillar of Social Rights and its Action Plan, in line with the European social model, we aim at tackling inequalities through access to the labour market, fair working conditions, adequate social protection and social inclusion. With the European Year of Youth 2022 we intensify our efforts to offer young people better opportunities, including in the labour market. At the Porto Social Summit in May, the EU and its Member States, social partners and civil society highlighted the importance of focussing policy efforts on equal opportunities, access to quality services, quality job creation, entrepreneurship, innovation and productivity, up- and reskilling and reducing poverty and exclusion.
However, basic skills in language, literacy, numeracy, and ICT remain a challenge for a significant share of the population, Regardless of social status or group identity, access to quality education at all levels from early childhood, vocational training and lifelong learning, is essential for employment and work opportunities. In particular, life-long learning together with up and reskilling, are preconditions for lasting employability and social inclusion. In addition, ability to adapt to the fast-changing world of work and handle flexible and secure labour market transitions is important for maintaining equality and diversity in the workplaces.
The EU and its Member States fully agree with the Office that several forms of inequalities can be reduced by actively engaging within the world of work, by developing and strengthening social dialogue, as clearly stated in the decent work Agenda, so as to promote gender equality, a fair income distribution, the formalization of the economy, adequate social protection and health and safety at work. Similarly, supporting labour market participation of underrepresented groups, and those facing discrimination including women as well as persons targeted based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression or others in vulnerable situations is fundamental for ensuring equality of opportunities.
The EU and its Member States have acted quickly through immediate economic relief measures addressing the employment and social consequences of the economic downturn resulting from the pandemic, including aiming to mitigate its long-term consequences. Following our analysis, we believe these measures should include the support for low-skilled workers, young people and women, older workers and all those disproportionately affected by job and income losses, by deteriorating employment prospects, as well as by labour exploitation, school closures, and the increase of unpaid care work. We recognise the importance of global solidarity and acknowledge the challenges of some developing countries related to reductions in fiscal and monetary policy space.
The tax-benefit systems were, to a large extent, able to cushion the impact of economic crises on people, jobs and companies. However, in some countries, the pandemic also revealed gaps in access to social protection, not only in terms of adequacy, but also in coverage and take up of benefits. In line with the outcomes of this year's recurrent discussion on social protection, countries need to reflect cautiously, together with the social partners, which temporary measures adopted in response to the Covid-19 crisis should be maintained or extended to address in particular the individual circumstances of people in vulnerable situations.
At the EU level, the Next Generation EU package agreed in July 2020 helps the EU to face the two main future challenges: to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic, and to invest in the transition to a digital and carbon neutral economy. These elements are in addition to the three safety nets, one of them being SURE, programme to Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency, which were already put in place to support workers, businesses, and countries.
Finally, we again reiterate the key importance of social dialogue in tackling these challenges and underline the important role it has played in dealing with the economic and social effects of the pandemic, not least in protecting those in vulnerable situation.
Thank you, Chair.
* Montenegro and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.