The need for active, labour market policies
ILO, as a specialized agency of UN, seeks the promotion of social
justice and fundamental principles and rights since its inception in
1919. The primary goal of the ILO today is to promote opportunities for
women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of
freedom, equity, security and human dignity.
Achieving decent work for youth is a challenge shared by all
countries across the world these days. As per Global Employment Trends
2011 report, more than 200 million people are unemployed worldwide,
including nearly 80 million youth.
The global youth unemployment rate stood at 12.6 percent in 2010, up
from 11.8 percent in 2007. On average, young women and men are two to
three times more likely to be unemployed than adults.
Participants at the head table of ‘Young Voices from Sri Lanka’
In Asia and the Pacific today young women and men between the ages 15
and 24 years accounts for 18 percent of region’s population but 44
percent of the unemployed, 3.5 times more likely than adults to be
unemployed. Their potential is not being fully realized because they
lack access to productive and decent work.
It is timely therefore that the Director-General of the ILO has taken
the initiative to convene national level consultative workshops
exclusively for young persons through cross sectional participation, to
hear their voices, listen to their needs, hear them out on their dreams
and aspirations and provide space for developing home-grown strategies
premised upon international norms to promote equality in treatment for
the world’s youth at their own country level.
The government of Sri Lanka, along with other stakeholders, has shown
strong commitment to addressing youth unemployment which is evidenced by
the establishment of the Youth Employment Network (YEN) a partnership
amongst the ILO, the UN and the World Bank of which Sri Lanka is also a
As we compliment the government and other stakeholders for their
untiring efforts over the years to address this growing crisis, it is
also time to take stock of these efforts and the persistent and stubborn
challenges that stymie improvements in youth employment trends.
There was a noticeable decline in labour force participation in Sri
Lanka over the past few years that has been attributed to the decline in
young people’s participation in the labour force.
Decent work agenda
The drop in overall youth participation alludes to young people
continuing their education and/or acquiring skills to be better prepared
to enter the world of work. This has resulted in youth reaching higher
education levels which is the dividends of Sri Lanka’s free education
policies over many decades.
However, this has not translated into favourable youth employment
results as the statistics show us that some of the highest unemployment
rates are recorded amongst youth with higher educational attainment
whilst in general, Sri Lanka’s youth are three times as unemployed as
their adult counterparts.
The ILO has initiated programmes in Sri Lanka to support youth
employment premised upon the four ‘E’s of employment, namely through
promoting equality in access to decent work; strengthening the
employability of youth persons to make the transition from
school-to-work; building entrepreneurship skills for young people as a
means to economic empowerment whilst working closely with employers
towards employment creation for young persons by promotion of investment
in sectors that generate jobs for youth - all of this founded on the
decent work agenda and the ‘mantra’ of fundamental principles and rights
It is also imperative that forward-looking, active labour market
policies for job growth and productivity in all sectors be formulated to
harness the energies of our young men and women be addressed as
articulated in the National Human Resource Development and Employment
Policy just validated.
It is equally important to address the country’s decent work gaps,
particularly the gender asymmetry in the world of work whilst supporting
special strategies and programmes to address the needs of special groups
in the young labour force.
For the ILO, the promotion of decent work for young people is a
central concern. We believe that integrated approaches are needed in
view of the multi-dimensional nature of the challenges facing youth and
a strong appeal should be made for fundamental change in approaches for
realizing social justice.
Collective action that could help change the future for young people
include: better training and education and measures to prepare young
people for the labour market, encouraging youth entrepreneurship and
enterprise development, effective implementation of international labour
standards and the defending of labour rights, the engagement of youth in
social dialogue, and sharing experience on tackling youth unemployment
Today is an opportunity for the youth of Sri Lanka to voice their
opinions on issues of youth employment; to let us know what works for
them and what does not, so that adult leaders can reflect upon the past;
listen to the key stakeholders, namely the youth, and formulate doable,
practical and impactful programmes for ensuring a better future for all
young people in Sri Lanka.
We hope, the young people’s representatives gathered here, to provide
us with guidance for a long-term, coherent and concerted effort to
successfully address youth unemployment, in Sri Lanka.
Our common future depends on the next generation. If they fall, we
fall. As Mideast crises are showing us, jobs creation for youth is a
crucial issue. We must address youth unemployment problem and promote
decent jobs for them. I can assure you that the ILO will continue
working with its constituents to pursue its Decent Work Agenda, thus
creating greater employment opportunities for youth in Sri Lanka.
Let me convey the best wishes to all youth participants from Subinay
Nandy, the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka. He pledges the support
of the United Nations to help the young people in Sri Lanka realize
their full potential, overcome the ‘storm and stress’ of the past and
claim their youth in this second birth!