Police arrest protesters as G8 labour ministers meet

Reuters News Agency Saturday, April 27  Globe and Mail Online Edition, Posted at 4:09 PM EST

Montreal More than two dozen protesters were in jail Saturday as labour ministers of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations ended a two-day meeting in Montreal by vowing that all sectors of society should have access to the labour force.

Police said 25 people were arrested and 147 fined for participating in an illegal gathering Friday night outside one of the conference venues as riot police used pepper spray to break up a march planned by protest groups. Police showed reporters gasoline bombs, marbles and billiard balls they said were confiscated from some of those arrested.

"It was a preventive action," Montreal police spokesman Andre Durocher told reporters Saturday. "It is clear these were individuals who were prepared to commit criminal acts," he added, motioning toward a table arrayed with gas masks, wooden and metal clubs, pocket knives and a bucket of large marbles and golf balls.

Officials reported no serious injuries, but a local radio journalist was struck on the head by a marble during Friday night's melee. Local rights and union groups denounced the police action as excessive. The Montreal meeting was one of a series of high-level ministerial gatherings leading up to June's G8 Summit in Kananaskis, AB, that will include the leaders of the G8, the world's richest nations the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia.

At the end of the ministers' closed-door meeting, host Jane Stewart, minister of human resources development, said the group agreed its work forces must be inclusive. That means women, persons with disabilities, aboriginal people, immigrants and those with low literacy skills should be able to find gainful employment. "There was no question in all the interventions by the members of the G8, that a focus on ensuring that all citizens have access to the economy is not only good economic growth, but absolutely important for increasingly strong societies," Ms. Stewart told reporters.

Some of those at the meeting table acknowledged there was no shortage of special problems troubling each economy. In Italy, it was that country's massive underground economy, said Labour Minister Roberto Maroni. He cited a recent International Monetary Fund report showing that the underground economy accounts for 27 percent of Italy's gross domestic product and 48 per cent of workers. "This means millions of workers have no rights and have no job security and are living in a marginalized world," he said.

One of the biggest labor problems facing the G8 countries is the migration of traditional manufacturing jobs to developing nations, where labor costs are substantially lower. That means developed countries have to invest more in higher education to satisfy the needs of their increasingly knowledge-based services-oriented economies. "We must say that, at least in the European Union, 67 percent of new jobs are being created in services," said Anna Diamantopoulou, EU employment and social affairs commissioner. "There is a shift in life-long learning and education, in the way that we invest in human resources to the services-driven economy."