Speech by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 Dialogue Forum with Trade Unions (Labour 20) in Berlin on 17 May 2017

begin 2017.05.17

Mr Hoffmann,
Ms Burrow,
Representatives of the international trade union associations and trade unions in the G20 member countries,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased that you are meeting here today at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and that you also already worked on the topic yesterday. As this year’s G20 host, it is very important to us to include as wide a range of civil society as possible in the preparations. We believe that our entire discussion with the political representatives of the G20 will be greatly enhanced as a result.
We believe that we will also receive recommendations from you. We believe that the results of your work will be included in our talks so that those who represent the billions of workers in the G20 will also be at the table in spirit. And we believe that we cannot simply dismiss your concerns, but rather must include you in our talks.

Naturally, the G7 and the G20 are different formats. But we believe that harmonised demands can also emerge in the G20 – in this case among the unions – even if the various member countries have very different living conditions and political systems. As trade unions, you incorporate a group that also knows how important it is to stand united if one wants to achieve certain demands. By now we also know – after all, this was how the G20 came about in the first place – that events in one country can end up affecting all of us around the world. We have learned that developments are closely interconnected and know that working together makes us stronger.

As you know, our summit will be held in Hamburg. We decided to use a maritime knot as a symbol, and we chose the reef knot. The more you pull it, the tighter it becomes – that is what is so nice about this particular knot. We believe that our interconnected world must stand firmly united when different forces tug at the knot.

I see the President of the National Council of German Women’s Organisations. I am pleased that the unions have taken on board what we discussed at the Dialogue Forum with Women and working with women’s representatives. In the same way that there is a wide-ranging social partnership between business and the unions in Germany, employees also face many issues that affect women in particular. That is why each dialogue forum with civil society results in an independent network of interests – and that is a good thing.

Naturally, your focus is on work – working conditions and opportunities. After all, many fundamental issues are linked to work. Do I earn enough to feed my family? Is it possible to live up to what my employer expects of me? Might digital technology, modernisation or innovation make my job superfluous? Do I even have a job? And a very important topic – what about environmental and safety regulations?

That is why the G20 has always strived for constant and ideally sustainable growth. Inclusive growth is also becoming an increasingly important topic in political discourse. That is good and as it should be. After all, as I said earlier, the G20 only came about in the first place at the level of Heads of State and Government as a result of a crisis, that is, the international financial market and economic crisis Mr Hoffmann mentioned. It taught us that we can only overcome the problems by working together. Although this crisis mainly started in the United States and the Anglo-Saxon financial area, everyone got involved in tackling it in the end – and that was the right thing to do.

That is why we fundamentally reject isolationism. We believe that we can shape globalisation together, but we are also firmly convinced that shaping globalisation is about people and that the opportunities available to them – and not only profits on the financial markets or individual gain – must be improved.

We chose the motto “shaping an interconnected world”. Global supply chains are one issue in this, and a topic we have already addressed in the G7. They are an excellent example of how the world is interconnected. According to estimates by the International Labour Organization – Mr Ryder of the ILO was already here with you – some 450 million jobs are directly or at least indirectly derived from global supply and value chains. Starting with the sourcing of raw materials, a primary product passes through many workers’ hands in various countries before it becomes a saleable product. As a result, those who curtail or even sever such value chains and put their faith in isolationism and protectionism harm all those involved.

There is currently a very interesting discussion in political negotiations on what protectionism actually is. We always use this term in a particular way. But what does it mean? Where do we need to protect ourselves and look for reciprocity? We cannot have a situation where some countries commit to complete openness, while others isolate themselves.

That means we need to look for opportunities to achieve comprehensive and rules-based trade facilitation – ideally within the framework of multilateral agreements. However, we also have to recognise that there is now a large number of bilateral agreements. We know that small and medium-sized enterprises in particular find it difficult to gain any sort of foothold on global markets, partly because there are very different regulations. I say this in particular as regards firms in developing and newly industrialising countries. These firms often face significant trade barriers.

For example, at today’s cabinet meeting we spoke about African countries that are experiencing moderate growth. In a fairer world, they would find our European markets more accessible than is currently the case. On the other hand, we know that unemployment is also high in Europe. Before we dismantle trade barriers, we also need to talk at home about how much we need to protect ourselves and our workers. It is often difficult to find a fair balance here.

Discussion on the EU-Canada trade agreement was also very intense in Germany. As a result, we realised that modern trade agreements need to mean more than dismantling trade barriers and must include social, environmental and consumer standards. We also want to have dispute settlement bodies that are transparent and capable of resolving disputes in a way that people can understand.

Of course, this brings us to a point that is much more difficult as regards the G20 – the fact that some countries are highly developed and have very high standards, while others are still struggling to achieve minimum standards. How can we say what are appropriate working conditions in the various countries of the world? It is not easy to answer that question. There are many differences between the G20 countries in particular.

If we are serious about implementing Article 1 of Germany’s Basic Law, then it does not only make sense to foster humane working conditions all over the world – it is essential to do so. That is why we actively support the implementation of international frameworks, such as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, on which we have drawn up a National Action Plan in Germany. We also want to play our part in fostering humane working conditions along the entire international supply chain.

In the G7, we dealt in depth with Bangladesh and the terrible conditions faced by female textile workers. Our response was to set up the Vision Zero Fund to call in the funding pledged by various countries to improve occupational health and safety. Even in the G7 context, that is no easy task – and it is almost embarrassing sometimes how lightly some promises are made and how difficult it then proves to implement them. We are now continuing the efforts to fill this fund in our G20 Presidency. We also support mechanisms that make it possible or easier for workers to file complaints about bad working conditions. In many cases, we do not know exactly what the conditions are like. However, transparency is very important here.

Whether or not a job can be seen as a good job naturally also depends on what it pays. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the many private-sector collective bargaining initiatives along supply chains. I can say that we have had positive experiences in Germany with collective bargaining. Firstly, politicians do not have to get involved in everything. That is already an advantage. Secondly, talks can sometimes become very heated, but our experience is that shared responsibility develops, in part because the employees’ side also has to decide what is important to them. For example, they have to ask themselves if training is also important and what is important to them as regards training young people. They also have to ask themselves if they are only thinking about today’s employees or if the future also matters to them. Collective agreements have become far more comprehensive in recent years as a result. Particularly during the crisis in the eurozone, we saw that the unions’ willingness to take on responsibility was not something one can take for granted everywhere the way we can in Germany.

Of course, a major problem for the unions is how to help people who are out of work and integrate them into the labour market. We know that education and training are becoming increasingly important. In Germany, we have a dual system of vocational training. However, we constantly need to improve this system. You can do a master’s degree free of charge in Germany, but you have to pay to become a master tradesperson, even if you receive financial support from the state. Whether or not that is actually fair is a topic that all parties are, I think, now looking at more closely. We also need to offer vocational training – and not only university degrees – in new types of jobs in the digital sector, as the practical approach of the dual system of vocational training is, and will remain, very important.

We have a special task in Germany – to integrate the many refugees who have come here into the labour market. We are thinking here both of integration in the host country and the possible need for reintegration in the countries of origin, for example when IS has been defeated in Iraq or peace has been restored in Syria and new situations develop as a result. We regard integration as a key component. And this also involves education – both language and vocational training.

We are also focusing on improving opportunities for women on the labour market. The G20 set a specific goal for the first time in Brisbane, that is, to reduce the gap between male and female employment by 25 percent by 2025. This also affects the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in which women’s situation plays a key role. We held the G20 Dialogue Forum with Women three weeks ago. On the second day of this event, the women said that they had been invited to take part in the Business 20 and Labour 20 discussions. I was very pleased to hear that. One of the things we said at that dialogue forum was that we want to improve access to loans for female entrepreneurs in developing countries in particular – we are currently working with the World Bank on a fund for this – and that we need to enhance women’s digital literacy. The first step is for women to be interested in this topic. But then there needs to be access to digital training.

Ladies and gentlemen, all of you are far more involved in the reality of problems in working life than I am. That is why we said we would not only have two speeches here – one by Mr Hoffmann to me and one by me to you – but also hold a discussion. In the final analysis, what is at stake is a good life all over the world. We in Germany feel a responsibility not to live at others’ expense. We see ourselves as part of a shared world in which there can only be peace if we take everyone’s situation into account. That is why I am eager to hear your recommendations. I am looking forward to hearing your views and to our discussion.

Thank you very much for inviting me here and thank you very much for your work.