Statement on behalf of the EU

and its Member States delivered by


H.E. Ms Ana Mendes Godinho

Minister of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security

of Portugal


at the


59th Session of the Commission for Social Development

Agenda Item 3(a) and (b)

General discussion

New York


Tuesday, 9 February



I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.

The Candidate Countries the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, and Georgia, align themselves with this statement.

First, I would like to thank the Bureau and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs for the preparatory work carried out in advance of this session.

One year since COVID-19 emerged, we observe how profoundly the pandemic has affected our societies and economies, having a serious impact on social development and exacerbating inequalities worldwide.  COVID-19 has put global gains in social development at risk, as the health crisis has triggered a social and economic crisis.  Millions of children are out of school and millions of people have lost their income.  Global poverty is expected to increase for the first time in more than twenty years.  Many low- and middle-income countries are facing substantial fiscal challenges that limit their capacity to safeguard an inclusive and equitable social development.  Instead of “building back better”, we risk “falling back further”.  That is why the EU and its Member States are implementing the “Team Europe” package, supporting partner countries in tackling the pandemic and mitigating the social and economic effects of the crisis.

Containing COVID-19 requires the participation of all governments, the private sector, civil society and ordinary citizens around the world.  Strengthening multilateralism with the UN at its core and global partnerships is more important than ever.  We should all join forces towards a global recovery that builds sustainable, equal and inclusive societies leaving no one behind in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Strengthening social fairness is key to overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.  Internally, the EU's response aims to prioritise employment, reduce inequalities and ensure equal opportunities and decent pay and working conditions for all, as part of the EU’s strong commitment to implement the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals by leaving no one behind, including through the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Turning now to the priority theme, the need to ensure a just transition is more relevant than ever.  We need to make sure that the transitions of climate neutrality, digitalisation and demographic change are socially fair, inclusive and accessible and that adequate social protection systems form an integral part of these transitions. Digital technologies are structurally transforming our economies and societies at unprecedented speed, changing the labour market and influencing the nature, quality and productivity of work and the working environment.  Whilst some jobs might become obsolete, others are being transformed and new ones are being created.  Since job loss is particularly affecting low-skilled workers, inequalities are likely to be exacerbated. COVID-19 has further accelerated this process, while adding new and further challenges for those unable to access and successfully use digital means.  With the outbreak of the pandemic, digitalisation has made access to education and remote training still possible.  This also holds true for many services but also for social and cultural activities.  Some business has moved online and companies have started changing their business model to adapt to the new environment.  For many, all that has come at a price: the digital divide, including between younger and older persons, between industrialised and developing countries or between rural and urban areas, is exacerbating existing patterns of inequalities.  As a result, the need to fight the digital divide to promote social and economic development worldwide has become even more pressing.  For this to happen, together with digital connectivity, we need the right mix of skills to learn, work, interact and effectively participate in the societies of this new digital age.  The digital transition must cater to all, have a human centred outlook and contribute to sustainable development.  Investing in the digital economy can also help to address climate risks and opportunities and assist countries to deliver on their commitments to implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.  Digital technologies should therefore have a prominent place in recovery strategies: we need to build back better; greener and more digital. Internally, the EU is taking action to make lifelong education and training fit for the digital age, including through the European Skills Agenda and the Digital Education Action Plan.

Young people suffer from substantially weaker employment outcomes as compared to adults in almost all EU countries, and the substantial and rapid increase of youth unemployment and underemployment is affecting young women and the low-skilled especially.  Moreover, young people constitute the majority of workers in the informal sector and the platform economy, which often lack access to adequate social protection as well as fundamental principles and rights at work.  The EU is taking action to support young people through the provision of opportunities for employment, apprenticeship, training or education in line with the digital and green transitions, including through a reinforced EU Youth Guarantee.  The EU is also examining measures to give young people a stronger voice in policymaking, and places particular attention on reaching disadvantaged young people.

Balancing work and family life is a daily challenge for all.  In 2019, the EU adopted higher minimum standards for parental, paternity and carers’ leave. Promoting equal treatment and equal opportunities for all, including equal pay for work of equal value, is one of the EU’s founding principles and remains high on its agenda.  To that end, the EU is examining measures on pay transparency, gender-based violence and domestic violence.  Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is a crosscutting priority in all external action of the EU.  Additional efforts are needed in view of the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women, who are also overrepresented among front-line workers, in particular in health and social work.  The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities in both the formal and the informal economy, including with regard to pay, working conditions, unpaid care work, and violence and harassment.

Over one billion people in the world live with some type of disability.  Many of them experience discrimination, which challenges internationally agreed commitments to realising, on an equal footing, the rights of persons with disabilities, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  It is essential that the digital and climate transitions are disability inclusive and accessible for persons with disabilities.  Digitalisation offers persons with disabilities major opportunities for equal participation in our societies.  The EU and its Member States, as parties to the Convention, are committed to respecting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of persons with disabilities across all policies.

Achieving full and productive employment and decent work for persons with disabilities has become even more urgent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Globally, only 28% of persons with disabilities have access to disability benefits, with only 1% in low-income countries.  Limited accessibility of digital technologies has exacerbated the isolation and limited participation of persons with disabilities in communication, education and work.  This alarming disparity needs to be addressed in all future international actions, forming part of the COVID-19 recovery response.

It is of outmost importance to preserve the rights and dignity of older persons who face significantly higher risks of mortality and severe disease from COVID-19.  Physical distancing accentuates the necessity to intensify lifelong learning and social support for older persons as well as their inclusion in the digital transition.


We look forward to rich discussions at this 59th session of the Commission on Social Development, which will provide meaningful input to the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July.  Building back better is the first task of the Decade of Action.  The post-COVID world will require more solidarity and cooperation to meet the promise of the 2030 Agenda.  The EU and its Member States are committed to do their share.

Thank you.

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