• Building the Global Workforce

    Thursday 27th January 2005 - 9:45am - 10:45am

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  • Building the Global Workforce


    Annual Meeting 2005

    Two thirds of the global labour force of 3 billion people live in developing countries where employment opportunities are generally few and economic growth is low while populations are growing rapidly. In the richer world, with its declining birth rates, there is a huge need for more workers to perform unskilled jobs. But many governments, fearful of the political consequences, are reluctant to approve greater immigration, although illegal immigrants pour in nonetheless and quickly find work. The result of this gross misallocation is growing social disruption and racism in the industrialized world and increasing poverty and despair in many developing countries. What is the solution?

    There was general agreement that the problem is not going to be overcome by an accord on what is formally called Mode 4 or "the free movement of natural persons". Until now, labour supply has been effectively excluded from the official trade liberalization agenda at the World Trade Organization, at the insistence of the developed nations. "Reforming the (international) visa regime is not going to solve this issue. There are huge political, social and cultural barriers," said Gail Fosler, Executive Vice President and Chief Economist, The Conference Board, USA.

    "There has not been a genuine international debate about the mobility of labour. The Mode 4 discussion at the WTO is a distraction. Don t expect us to support it," declared Sharan Burrow, President, Australian Council of Trade Unions, Australia. Complaints of being "swamped by immigrants" heard in richer countries are false, she said. "If all the illegal immigrants in California were sent home, the state economy would collapse by breakfast time, and if they were sent home from Britain, London would come to a halt by lunchtime." Employers and unions recognize the problem and can work together to push governments to act.

    Ben J. Verwaayen, Chief Executive Officer, BT, United Kingdom, suggested the migration issue is being overtaken by events as global corporations increasingly use communications technology to link employees in several countries without the need to relocate them from their home bases. China and India, tapping into this unstoppable trend, "are incorporating themselves into major corporations around the world," he said. But poorer countries, especially in Africa, that lack the necessary knowledge base, entrepreneurial skills and networking capacity will be left out.

    David Arkless, Executive Board Member, Manpower, USA, objected that the trend outlined by Verwaayen can only apply to a small portion of the global workforce, among whom just 10% have access to, or can use, the Internet. Arkless said his company s 450,000 worldwide customers find no real problem in moving staff around but have a real challenge "in finding the right talent in the right place at the right time …The problem they have is moving work to countries that need it." His scepticism was shared by Burrow and by moderator Jan O. Karlsson, Co Chair, Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM), Geneva.

    Jagdish Bhagwati, Professor, Columbia University, USA, argued that world legal systems are increasingly moving towards encouraging skilled labour migration. But this can lead to a brain drain from poorer countries. However, countries like India, China and the Philippines see such migration as an opportunity to boost revenues from the funds many emigrants send home. Fosler, however, argued that if the jobs such migrants are doing were available in their home countries, the economic benefits would be far greater.

    The lessons of the debate, according to Karlsson, are: · Economic polices are required that will create more employment in poorer countries; · Efforts should be made to encourage cooperation between capital and labour; · Pressure must be placed on governments to act before they are overtaken by events.

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  • Jagdish Bhagwati Jagdish Bhagwati
    Professor, Columbia University, USA

    Formerly: 1991-93, Economic Policy Adviser to Director General, GATT; Special Adviser to UN on Globa...

  • Gail Fosler Gail Fosler

  • Ben J. Verwaayen Ben J. Verwaayen
    Chief Executive Officer, VERWAAYEN Business Services, United Kingdom

    Bachelor's and Master's in Political Science and International Law, University of Utrecht, Netherlan...

  • David Arkless David Arkless

  • Sharan Burrow Sharan Burrow
    General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Brussels

    BA; diplomas in education and special education. Former President, Australian Council of Trade Union...