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ECOSOC - Statements in 1999

Statement by H.E. Mr. Ludek Rychly, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic on Poverty Eradication and Capacity Building Geneva, 8 July 1999 Statement by H.E. Mr. Martin Palous, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic on The Role of Employment and

  • Statement by H.E. Mr. Ludek Rychly, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic on Poverty Eradication and Capacity Building
    Geneva, 8 July 1999

  • Statement by H.E. Mr. Martin Palous, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic on The Role of Employment and Work in Poverty Eradication: The Empowerement and Advancement of Women
    Geneva, 6 July 1999

Statement by H.E. Mr. Ludek Rychly, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic on Poverty Eradication and Capacity Building

Mr. President,

The Czech Republic aligns itself with the EU statement on Poverty Eradication and Capacity Building as presented by the Finnish Presidency. We share the views that poverty eradication is the world´s principle challenge for the new millenium. We fully endorse that countries themselves are primarily responsible for their own development and "the international community, in partnership, has the responsibility to assist their national efforts". We very much welcome that the UN system assists and supports national governments through advocacy, capacity building and the setting up of the internationally agreed targets within the UN global conferences.

The Czech Government drew up its strategy for fighting poverty at the beginning of the 90s when, as a result of the transition from planned to market economy, the risk of the rise and reproduction of poverty and racial exclusion became stronger.

The crucial role within this strategy belongs naturally to the employment policy. An early creation of an efficient network of public employment services and development of pro-active employment measures enabled to maintain a low level of unemployment which stood at approximately 3% until 1997. Later, the strong economic recession led to a considerable rise in unemployment which has nearly doubled since then. As a response to this new situation, the Czech Government recently approved new employment strategy formulated in the National Employment Plan. This Plan - even if it reflects primarily the needs of the Czech economy - corresponds to the employment policy of the European Union targetting such issues as employability, entrepreneurship, flexibility and equal opportunities for men and women.

Together with the employment policy the Czech authorities introduced a comprehensive social safety net based on the three-pillar system of social protection: social insurance, state social support of families and the social welfare scheme.

In the core of this system there is the subsistence minimum defined as the minimum income. This subsistence minimum became the criterion for the adequacy of a household´s income - actual incomes are supplemented up to this limit by means of social benefits. Roughly 3 % of all citizens show an actual income permanently below the minimum subsistence level.

Introduction of this subsistence minimum prevented especially vulnerable groups of population from failing into poverty. Nevertheless, I must add that this concept can work only if the proportion between social and work income is strictly preserved in order to make wage attractive enough if compared with social income, otherwise it does not create a protection against poverty but a poverty trap.

Mr. President,

The Czech Republic attaches a great importace to the capacity building for development and the role of the United Nations in it. A broad agreement within the framework of the UN global conferences has been reached among major actors that approaches to reduce poverty have to include structural reforms at the macro level and explicit pro-poor policies. The Czech Republic acknowledges the significant efforts made by the UN system, including the World Bank, to consistently encourage Governments to build managerial, organizational and technical domestic capacities.

The Czech Republic went through its first transition period rather rapidly and relatively smoothly. However, it was not without difficulties. Fundamental macro-economic reforms have been only partly followed by desirable technology transfer, structural adjustment in private sector and economic growth. Privatization, liberalization and development of financial sector proved to be insufficient to secure effective performance on global markets. We have learnt that the role of the government, good governance, law enforcement, sustainable industrial and trade policies and the internal capacity building must not be underestimated.

Our delegation, therefore, endorses that the role of the United Nations system in countries in transition has focused on the difficult balance between economic reforms and the need for a " Credible State", where the latter, while performing important functions in support of market development, should also face the challenge of ensuring the protection of human development. It is warmly welcomed that the UN system, in cooperation with Bretton Woods institutions, pays more attention to a new role of governments in globalization, setting up standards for and building up a good governance, enabling pozitive environment for domestic private sector and foreign direct investments as well as long-term development policies. High priority should be placed to capacity building in economic and social policies, education, regulatory and legal framework etc. In so doing the UN should fully employ all dimensions of TCDC, the triangular modalities in particular, in which, by the way, the Czech Republic would very much like to participate.

The Czech delegation fully supports the recommendation made in the Report of the Secretary General that capacity building should be explicitly articulated as a goal of all operational activities provided by the United Nations. We agree that capacity building should be aimed not only at human resources but also at development of institutions and improvement of a legal and regulatory enviroment, in which they operate. We believe that the UN´s bigger focus on capacity building within operational activities will bring about substantial benefit to countries challenging poverty eradication while being succesful in globalized world economy.

Mr. Chairman,

let me conclude with sharing our delegation´s concern regarding the decline in financial resources for development assistance. It is our hope that , in the view of the increasing need, for operational activities in capacity building, sufficient financial recources will be mobilized.

Statement by H.E. Mr. Martin Palous, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic on The Role of Employment and Work in Poverty Eradication: The Empowerement and Advancement of Women

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is indeed a great honour and pleasure for me to address this distinguished gathering on behalf of the delegation of the Czech Republic.

In the Report of the secretary General to this meeting, a case is made for human rights declarations to inform social policy making. The Report stresses that this is a controversial area, but states that according to historical experience, in the long run, respect for rights goes hand in hand with improved and sustained growth in living standards. The Report also points out that a combination of national and international policies is needed to promote the rights-based approach, if it is to be successful. (ECOSOC, Substantive session of 1999, Geneva, 5-30 July 1999, doc. E/1999/..., 17 May 1999, Report of the Secretary General, III. 4., p. 12 et seq.)

I find this passage - and the whole report - very interesting and illuminationg, deserving substantial comments. Given the time-limite imparted to the speakers, however, I will concentrate only on two points. The first will be the economic and social situation of women and on their access to mainstream jobs in the Czech Republic. The second point will consist of a few general remarks on economic and social rights in relation to human rights as such.

In the Czech Republic, labour force participation rates have been traditionally high for both men and women. Wome´s activity rates continue to be high, and in general one may be tempted to say in this context that our socialist legacy has left us with almost no gender discrimination. Moreover, in the last 10 years economic growth has been slow - or negative - and most households need a double income. Paid work for women has become the norm in Czech society.

Access to education has been equal for men and women for several generations. In tertiary university education women now represent 45 % of students and in tertiary non-university education they represent the majority.

Unemployment remained at a very low level until 1996, when it started to grow under the effect of economic recession. It now stands at about 8 %, - 7 % for mend and 10 % for women. The unemployment rate was always somewhat higher for women than for men, but the difference became significant only in the last few years.

Male-female earnings differentials had a tendency to close until 1996 and only in the last three years they widened again slightly. One shold not underestimate this signal. However, according to all available information, it would be wrong to speak about a systematic feminization of poverty in the Czech Republic.

(The main reason for the narrowing of male-female differentials was that some occupations with a high share of women, particularly banking clerks, lower and middle level employees in insurance, financial services and recentrly also judges saw their earnings go up considerably. On the other hand, more men than women created ther own private business, ceasing to be wage earners. It is true that the provessional categories that gained most in the process of transition, namely entrepreneurs and high level managers, are mainly men. Nevertheless, the difference between average earning of male and female employees decrreased and stands now at about 30 %.)

Income differentials have widened substantially, which led to the increase in the share of poor households, Female-headed households with children tend to be overrepresented in the low-income groups, but so are retired men living alone, and complete households of thnic minorities, partifularly with many children, i.e. Roma households. According to available information, the problem of poverty does not affect the female population visibly more than the population in general. Sociological research has established that gender was the least significant socio-demographic factor determining income inequality in the Czech Republic. (Information provided by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs).

If I may add just one more flag-waving sentence, there is no child labour in our country. Compulsory education was introduced under empress Maria-Theresia, in the 18th century, and children do not do manual labour, apart from the harvesting seasons.

If until now I was perhaps too optimistic and self-assured as regards the situation in my country, in my second point, I will focus on a problem representing a real challenge for us. This problem is the concept of human rights. We all know that an unconditional respect for human rights belongs, together with the rule of law, to the factors indispensable for a successful transition form a totalitarian regime to democracy. But, we also know that there are various types or "generations" of rights which must be recognized and protected. One of the key problems of transition from communism is to understand and to handle correctly the interrelationship of civil and political rights, on the one hand, and of social and economic rights, on the other.

Before 1989 our "ideologues" claimed that political and social rights represented two distinct, even "dichotomic", categories. Whereas the emphasis on civil and political rights was associated with Western "individualism", the implementation of collectivist social rights was the priority of "real socialism" in the East. The totalitarian form of government collapsed in 1989 in our region and the main task of politics during the transiton period is how to overcome its unfortunate legacies. Does it mean only to dismantle all the bureaucratic structures of the "paternalistic" state and to rely fully on the "enlightened self-interest" of responsible individuals, operating in a free market enviroment? And does it mean to reduce public spending to a minimum, letting the system evolve freely, under the guidance of the "invisible hand"? Our answer to both questions is no.

So what should be done in this respect? The solutions we have arrived at may sound like "banalities" to many. However, our finding is that sometimes fairly trivial things get complicated and call for a substantial discussion.

First of all, we believe that human rights are indivisible, whether they are civil and political or economic and social. It is true that civil and political rights exist independently from Government action and economic and social rights rrequire active Government measures. but the lesson derived from our transition experience is that an active Government policy is required in both cases, and that a passive "lassez-faire" concerning both political and social rights is at best the proverbial way to hell, paved with good intentions.

Second, we believe that, in a democracy, political and social rights have a common denominator: a specific type of communication between the citizen and the State. A necessary prequisite of the implementation of human rights, - in their indivisibility - is public debate, a continuous dialogue on public matters, both political and social. An important example in this connection is tripartism, bringing together the Unions, employers and Governments.

Third, the dialogue just referred to cannot exist in an atomized, individualistic society, but needs intermediary bodies, such as NGOs. The role of the State is mainly to create the proper political environment, and not to solve all problems, using its own institutional capacities. Our experience is that NGOs are not mere debating societies, but can often do a better job in implementing human rights policies than Government institutions.

In conclusion, let me mention a few points concerning the international aspects of our human rights policies.

The new programme of Czech foreign policy takes fully into account the internationalization and globalization of human rights issues.

As one of our basic aims is to join the European Union, the European Social Charter will soon become an integral part of our legislation. although aligning our social legislation with it may present not only advantages but also problems, it plays an important model role and will continue to do so. In accordance, the Czech Republic has aligned itself with the EU statement presented at this High Level Segment session.

In my very last point, I would like to mention that the Czech Republic prepares to participate more actively than at present in development assistance and humanitarian aid, pulling its full weight in this field, once it joins the EU. When we started our transition, it was obvious that in order to succeed, we would need to be helped by the international community. Our clear goal for the years to come is to make a step further: to be not only recipients, but to become increasingly donors in various forms of international cooperation.