Global Redesign Summit 2010

  • Rebuild In Depth: Employment and Migration

    Monday 31st May 2010 - 8:30am - 10:00am

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  • Rebuild In Depth: Employment and Migration

    The recent economic crisis has left many countries with major, protracted increases in unemployment. At the same time, numerous industrialized countries are projected to experience labour force shortages due to demographic change, while developing countries struggle to find jobs for their increasingly educated populations.

    1) How can countries boost the employment intensity of economic recovery?
    2) How might win-win migration arrangements among developed and developing countries be stimulated through international cooperation?
    3) How might the international community provide more effective support to countries wishing to create or expand basic pension, health and anti-poverty insurance programmes?

    Key Points

    • The employment crisis has outlasted the financial crisis, as new jobseekers outpace recovery. New jobs, moreover, tend to pay less than those lost in the recession and require skills in short supply
    • Migrant labour offers a hedge for developing economies against recession, with remittances resilient to export shocks
    • Barriers to labour movement only increase the pressures that drive workers abroad. Policy-makers must start treating migrant labour as an acceptable way to redress skills and labour imbalances
    • Winning public acceptance for migrant labour will require explaining not only the benefits, but the costs of importing workers and compensating those who stand to be hurt by new competition
    • Making labour migration work will require relaxing labour laws, but increasing regulation on labour movement to reduce abuses. The ILO can help developing countries beef up their own labour laws


    The financial crisis may have abated, but the employment crisis is far from over. New jobseekers continue to enter the workforce, whether the economy is prepared for them or not. Young people, particular young men, are hit disproportionately hard by job cuts, yet the looming threat of deflation in Europe seems likely to push up unemployment there. One challenge during economic recovery is that jobs created are typically lower-paying than jobs lost during the recession. Even as employers resume hiring, however, many jobs remain unfilled because workers lack the skills to do them.

    Migrant labour can help mitigate these problems. Despite fears that they crowd out jobseekers, migrant workers provide benefits to both labour-exporting countries and labour importers. Remittances, for example, are surprisingly resilient to economic downturns, and help to hedge the most vulnerable economies against demand shocks. Promoting immigration during periods of high unemployment poses a significant political challenge, obviously. But in the long run, barriers to migration only make the pressure to migrate more intense by exacerbating income gaps. Labour policies, therefore, need to focus on normalizing the international flow of labour and facilitating the flow of workers from nations with surplus labour to nations with labour shortages. Labour migration should be understood to be part of normal economic activity, as common and desirable as the movement of capital and investment.

    Changing public perceptions will require a new degree of political honesty. Politicians and labour advocates must resist the temptation to use hyperbole in their arguments. At the same time, they need to make the public understand that importing labour is not good for everyone – there are inevitably losers, particularly among poorer, less-skilled workers. Programmes must be devised to ameliorate the impact of migration on these people, whether through some form of compensation or retraining.

    Framing the debate will also require reference points. For this reason, the Global Agenda Council on the Skills Gap, in consultation with the Councils on Migration and Talent & Diversity, has proposed a new, structured public-private process to identify and encourage the replication of a model national labour migration policy. By establishing best-practice, the hope is that a more reasonable debate can be conducted.

    Making migrant labour work will require more flexible labour rules. But it will also require better protection for migrant workers. Labour agencies should be strictly regulated to prevent abuses and labour importers should be obliged to implement UN conventions on workers’ and human rights. To help facilitate the adoption of better labour policies, the Global Agenda Council on Employment & Social Protection has proposed a major expansion of the capacity of the ILO and multilateral development banks to help developing countries strengthen domestic institutions relevant to the investment climate, employment generation and wage progress.

    Discussion Leaders

    David Arkless

    , President, Corporate and Government Affairs, Manpower, United Kingdom; Global Agenda Council on the Skills Gap

    Laura Liswood

    , Secretary-General, Council of Women World Leaders, USA

    Demetrios G. Papademetriou

    , President and Board Member, Migration Policy Institute (MPI), USA; Global Agenda Council on Migration

    Stephen Pursey

    , Director, Policy Integration Department and Senior Adviser to the Director-General, International Labour Organization (ILO), Geneva

    Dilip Ratha

    , Lead Economist, Migration and Remittances Team, World Bank, Washington DC; Global Agenda Council on Migration

    Dennis J. Snower

    , President, Kiel Institute for the World Economy, Germany; Global Agenda Council on the Skills3Gap

    Facilitated by

    Sharan Burrow

    , President, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Belgium; Global Agenda Council on Employment & Social Protection


    This summary was prepared by Wayne Arnold. The views expressed are those of certain participants in the discussion and do not necessarily reflect the views of all participants or of the World Economic Forum.

    Copyright 2010 World Economic Forum
    No part of this material may be copied, photocopied or duplicated in any form by any means or redistributed without the prior written consent of the World Economic Forum.

    Monday 31 May

    Keywords: labour, migration, employment, ILO, IMF, UN, US, gender, Europe

Facilitated by

  • 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...


  • Demetrios G. Papademetriou Demetrios G. Papademetriou
    President and Board Member, Migration Policy Institute (MPI), USA

    Formerly: Executive Editor, International Migration Review. Formerly: Chairman: Migration Committee,...

  • David Arkless David Arkless

  • Dennis J. Snower Dennis J. Snower
    President, Kiel Institute for the World Economy, Germany

    International economist and originator of insider-outsider theory of employment. Former Visiting Pro...

  • Dilip Ratha Dilip Ratha
    Manager, Migration and Remittances and Head, Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD), World Bank, Washington DC

    Expert on migration, remittances and diaspora bonds. Formerly with: University of Sussex, Brighton; ...

  • Ilene H. Lang Ilene H. Lang

  • Laura Liswood Laura Liswood
    Secretary-General, Council of Women World Leaders, USA

    AB, California State University, San Diego; JD, Davis School of Law, University of California; MBA, ...