Opening remarks at Meeting with G8 and International Trade Union Leaders 2006-07-06 20:14:32 The Kremlin, Moscow President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, Allow me to welcome you to Moscow. I know that such meetings traditionally take place in the run-up to the G8 summits. We are happy to see you this year in the Russian capital on the eve of the G8 summit in St Petersburg. I see this as recognition of the importance of the G8 mechanisms in resolving the issues raised by trade unions. And, of course, I also see it as confirmation of the active role that the trade union movement is seeking to play in finding answers to the challenges we face in the world today. As the country holding the presidency of the G8 this year, Russia has understanding for the ideas and initiatives that you put forward. Trade unions are organisations that really do represent the interests of millions of people. I welcome your desire to resolve problems through interested and constructive dialogue. I agree with many of the assessments and initiatives contained in the trade union statements drawn up for other G8 summits, in particular on drafting national employment strategies, reducing poverty and increasing investment in healthcare. A particularly important issue raised by trade unions is that of observing the rights of workers and their organisations. There can be no doubt that respect for human rights in general and for the rights of hired workers in particular is a very important component of sustainable development. It is also the international community’s job to achieve universal recognition for trade union rights and other fundamental labour rights and laws, and to ensure due control over their enforcement, at national level and by using the mechanisms of international organisations. Now I would like to outline our positions regarding key issues that will be discussed at the upcoming summit. You, of course, know what is on the agenda for our discussions. I would like to look at these issues in a little more detail. Russia would like the entire international community to join forces to resolve a whole number of tasks in the energy sector. This concerns above all ensuring a secure supply of traditional fuel sources for the world economy on conditions that are acceptable for both producer and consumer countries, and this also concerns the fight against energy poverty. Other important issues are diversification and security of energy supplies and the search for breakthrough technologies and clean energy resources for the future. We think that one of the key issues is that of fair distribution of risks among the producers, transit countries and energy consumers. The energy market should be insured against unpredictability and we must reduce its level of investment vulnerability. To do this, we need to develop the relevant instruments, in particular, long-term contracts between producers and consumers. The problem of ensuring reliable and affordable energy supplies and services for developing countries is an important part of our common efforts. Of course, energy alone cannot solve the problem of poverty. But at the same time, lack of energy resources seriously holds back economic growth and not using energy resources rationally can lead to environmental disaster not just at local level but on a global scale. In this respect I agree with you that energy sector development should take into account environmental and social considerations and, in particular, should help create new jobs. I am ready to listen to your proposals in this area during our meeting today. Furthermore, we must give the developing countries real assistance by introducing efficient and affordable energy technology, including technology based on renewable energy sources. Now, to say a few words about education, we, like the other leading powers, see education as one of the key conditions for innovation-based development. We see it as a fundamental means of achieving not just economic progress but also technological progress. We also see it as the basis for social and civil peace in society and as the tool that will help us overcome inter-cultural differences and face the other challenges of sustainable development. It is education that can provide a worthy response to the attempts to impose a split between civilisations on the world and stir up interethnic and inter-religious conflict. But we also need to recognise that there is a real risk in the world today of professional education not measuring up to the demands of the twenty-first century and not keeping up with the demands of the labour market, the demands of a knowledge-based economy. What matters in this kind of economy is not education received once and for good, but the possibility of lifelong learning and the need to be able to quickly learn new skills and re-enter active working life. As Russia sees it, the main problem is that insufficient education or education that does not match modern demands puts a brake on sustainable development and holds individual countries, regions or social groups in poverty. You will agree, I’m sure, that seen in this light, education carries within it the potential for conflict and becomes a serious global challenge. Furthermore, all countries today seek to become integrated into the scientific and educational processes underway in the world and to make their education standards mutually compatible. This is a complex and long-term endeavour but globalisation requires that we resolve it. The help of the trade unions is needed, in particular, to create a new and more balanced system of mutual recognition of qualifications on the international labour market. We are fully aware that the free movement of people in the world has an impact on the labour market in different countries and we need to come up with common approaches so as to resolve all these issues in a way that will avoid conflict and benefit development in all countries. We also need the trade unions’ help in forming new, higher standards of education and creating guarantees for lifelong learning and training. At the G8 summit we will raise the question of full implementation of the UN Education for All Programme, which, as you know, makes universal literacy one of its goals. As a participant in this programme, Russia will propose developing an international quality evaluation system for basic education – the most relevant issue for developing countries. Overall, I think that trade unions have a direct interest in modernising the education system and in ensuring broad access to quality education services. At the summit in St Petersburg we will also be discussing the whole range of problems connected to the fight against infectious diseases and healthcare development in general. We will focus particularly on preventing epidemics in the aftermath of natural and manmade disasters and other problems of this kind. Trade unions have traditionally taken part in resolving occupational health and safety problems and lobby actively for the development and adoption of international regulations in this area. Drawing on the trade unions’ potential in resolving healthcare issues is not only useful but also very necessary. I propose that we do not keep only to the issues on the upcoming summit’s agenda in our discussion today. I am sure that there is a whole range of complex problems facing the modern economy that we will not be able to resolve without the trade unions’ participation. I am ready to discuss any issues you consider relevant, any issues you feel we should discuss not only here but also any questions that you think should be brought to the attention of my colleagues who will be gathering a week from now in St Petersburg to discuss the G8 agenda. As I have said, the very character of the G8 meetings makes it possible to raise and discuss practically any issues in an informal setting. That is all I wanted to say to start with. I propose now giving you the floor.