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Labor Ministries Can Help Create Prosperity and Improved Standards of Living for Workers in the Americas

By U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao

Posted: September 26, 2005

This week, Ministers of Labor of governments belonging to the Organization of American States are meeting in Mexico City. The goal of all the countries attending this Summit is the same: how to create prosperity and improved standards of living that is shared by all. President George W. Bush believes that the best way to do this is through sound economic policies that foster enterprise, entrepreneurship and the creation of new jobs.

By following this model, the United States has sustained growth and created millions of new jobs despite some of the most difficult economic and political challenges in recent history. Our nation’s unemployment rate is 4.9 percent, lower than the average of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Economic growth in the first half of 2005 averaged about 3.6 percent. The United States has enjoyed 27 consecutive months of payroll expansion, adding 4.2 million net new jobs to the economy since May 2003. In 2005, the U.S. economy has created an average of 194,000 net new jobs per month, exceeding predictions.

In fact, more Americans are working than ever before. Even the terrible devastation of Hurricane Katrina will not displace the United States from its basic path of economic growth. That’s due, in no small part, to economic policies that have focused on eliminating the excessive regulation, over taxation and abusive litigation that stifles private sector growth and job creation.

The United States believes strongly that Labor Ministries can play a role in encouraging the conditions for growth and job creation. First, Labor Ministries can help workers gain the skills they need to access new opportunities. Many private sector employers in the United States provide job training and apprenticeship programs for workers. But the U.S. Department of Labor also invests in training and education programs for workers. The Department trains workers with relevant skills that are in demand in the workplace-- real skills for real jobs. The Department’s training programs also link workers with employers who have real jobs to offer.

Helping workers update their skills is especially important in the U.S. economy because our workforce is so mobile. The average American will have had 9 jobs by the time he or she is 34 years old. Every year, one third of our entire workforce of 149 million turns over because of better economic opportunities. That’s a tribute to the tremendous dynamism of our workforce and our economy.

Another major responsibility of Labor Ministries is worker protections. In this area, the U.S. Department of Labor has developed innovative approaches to better protect workers. The Department does not have the resources to inspect every workplace in America for labor law violations. So the Department targets enforcement on industries with high rates of injuries, fatalities and other health and safety problems. In addition, there is an Enhanced Enforcement Program, which targets enforcement on employers with bad safety records who continually and frequently place their workers at risk.

To better protect workers, the U.S. Department of Labor implemented a new program called “Compliance Assistance.” This is an outreach program to help educate workers and employers about their responsibilities and rights. This 3-part strategy has helped reduce worker injuries and fatalities to record lows. And it has helped secure record collections of back wages and benefits for workers, especially vulnerable immigrants.

Third, Labor Ministries can help encourage transparency and accountability in public, private and non-profit institutions. Maintaining public trust in public and private institutions is essential in a democratic society. The U.S. Department of Labor requires transparency and accountability in the labor organizations and private health and benefit plans that it regulates, so that workers are informed about their rights.

In summary, the United States believes that Labor Ministries have an important role to play in promoting the conditions for economic growth. Promoting a balance between strong worker protections and a flexible and adaptable workforce can benefit the workers of every nation. This strategy encourages foreign investment that creates jobs and is a tremendous incentive for domestic investment, as well.

The United States welcome the great diversity in the Americas and recognizes that all nations and cultures are unique. Each country bears the responsibility for its own economic progress through good governance, sound policies, and the rule of law. The Labor Ministers conference in Mexico City, and the upcoming Summit of the Americas, are wonderful opportunities to share our common values. Working together, we can help create prosperity and brighter futures for all the working men and women of the Americas.


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