Saturday, May 26, 2018

2018 OECD Social Policy Forum Showcases Powerful Female Labor and Social Ministers

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) held its 2018 Ministerial Meeting and Forum on Social Policy in Montreal, Canada on May 14 and 15, 2018.  The event, titled Social Policy for Shared Prosperty: Embracing the Future, was the first time in the OECD's history that the Social Policy Forum and Ministerial Meeting were held outside Paris.  Elder Ka'nahsohon Kevin Deer conducted a blessing ceremony at the beginning of the event.

Labor and Social Policy Ministers from over 35 countries participated in the social forum on May 14, 2018 and conducted closed door discussions on May 15, 2018.  Speakers in the public Social Policy Forum grappled with the challenge of setting social policy in an era of globalization and technical change, particularly with the increase in non-standard working relationships as a result of technological change, the Uberization of work, and the proliferation of the "gig economy" throughout the developed and developing world.  Topics to be addressed in the Ministerial Meeting included modernization of social protection systems to better incorporate workers in non-standard jobs; promotion of diversity and social inclusion; coping with aging populations; ensuring equal opportunities for children and youth; and mainstreaming gender equality in policy design and reform.

During a special public mid-day session titled "Investing in Working Parents Pays Off," researchers and policy makers from the Nordic countries presented their new study Is the Last Mile the Longest? Economic Gains from Gender Equality in Nordic Countries.  The study contains economic data demonstrating that gender equality actually improves countries' overall economic performance.  Swedish Minister for Health and Social Affairs Annika Strandh√§ll pointed out that Sweden's over 40 years of experience with gender and family support policies can be instructive to other countries, as mistakes were made and not every experiment worked as well as policy makers hoped.

By far, the highlight of the Social Policy Forum was its showcasing of powerful, elegant, and effective female labor and social ministers from a number of OECD member states, including Ireland, Sweden, Japan, and Greece.  These strong - and, for the most part, fairly young - leaders are guiding their countries' labor and social policies into the future.  They are stars to watch on the global and their own national stages.

A powerful and witty speaker, Regina Doherty, Minister for Employment Affairs & Social Protection of the Republic of Ireland, spoke in the first plenary session on the importance of walking in constituents' shoes in order to better understand what kind of policies to design and implement.  A Dubliner, Doherty started her career in the IT sector while raising 4 children with her husband before entering politics in 2009.  She was appointed to her current position in 2017.  Some of the issues she has tackled during her political career include IRA sex abuse allegations and increasing public funding to improve childcare in Ireland.

Annika Strandhall of Sweden, also appointed to her position in 2017, spoke in the final plenary session.  Strandhall started her career as a trade unionist and public sector employee, working her way up to president of her trade union.  She served as Sweden's Minister for Social Security from 2014 to 2017 before becoming Minister for Health and Social Affairs in 2017.  Her remarks demonstrated that she is emotionally and intellectually engaged with the issues and challenges faced by her constituents within and outside Sweden.

Japan's Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Mizuho Onuma was appointed to her position in 2017 after an almost meteoric rise through government ranks when she moved to the public sector from her first job in broadcasting.  Mizuho was first elected to Parliament in 2013.  Mizuho spoke about the need for public officials to take the ideas they exchange at the OECD forum back to their home countries for implementation and harmonization.

Finally, Greece's Minister of Labor, Social Security and Social Solidarity Effie Achtsioglou spoke powerfully and poignantly about pulling Greece out of its 2008 debt crisis, the negative impact international and European conditions for restructuring Greece's public debt have had on Greek workers and labor markets, and emerging signs that Greece's labor market may indeed be recovering after its decade-long ordeal.   First appointed to her position in November 2016, Achitsioglou is responsible for guiding Greece's workers, employers, and labor markets from a position of complete collapse to healthy and near full employment.  An academic who obtained her Ph.D. in European Labor Law in 2015, Achtsioglou is a widely published expert on financial crises and labor markets.

Achtsioglou is a tireless advocate for Greece's workers in the global community.  Prior to her current appointment, she was the Ministry's chief negotiator in charge of negotiations with European and international institutions (EC, ECB, IMF, etc.). In February 2017, she informed the IMF that Greece will no longer accept further pension cuts as a condition for continued debt restructuring.  Recently, she argued in the Huffington Post that labor rights in Greece must not be exempted from European Union standards.  Finally, in a March 2017 speech, Achtsiogiou argued that Europe's future is inextricably tied to labor relations in Greece.

These four rock stars of the 2018 OECD Social Policy Forum are truly the Wonder Women of our age.  I look forward to observing how their grit, intellectual prowess, and political acumen help them shape their own and their countries' futures in years to come.

Also published on Medium.