The Fight for Decent Work

The World Day for Decent Work (WDDW) has been marked all over the world on 7 October since 2008, as a trade union response to the increasingly precarious nature of work, unemployment, declining job security and income. Most of these trends are likely to continue with the growing digitalization, lack of regulation, and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workplace.

The devaluation of work has a huge impact not only on workers but also on the citizens they serve. One example is care workers: from cradle to grave, care work is central to humanity – the future is nurtured by child carers, and age care protects the dignity of the elderly; care services help secure equal opportunities and the rights of people with disability; and throughout our life cycle, most of us will need social support services to address needs including those arising from illness or poverty. And while the number of people requiring social care continues to increase, public care services have been under siege, resulting in the decline of quality and availability of care to poor people in dire need of social care. Care provision has become marketized, driven by profits. Exploitation of migrant labour, zero-hour contracts and informalisation of care jobs are some of the ways that starvation wages and poor working conditions have become the lot of care workers, who more and more frequently face violence and harassment in the course of their work.

During the UN General Assembly in September 2015, decent work and the four pillars of the ILO Decent Work Agenda (employment creation, social protection, rights at work, and social dialogue) became an integral part of the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 8 of the Agenda calls – among other things – for the promotion of sustained economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, and the protection of labour rights and safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers.

However, achieving these goals similarly requires massive resources – the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that achieving all the 17 SDGs will take between US$5 to $7 trillion – and while it is the governments that hold a significant share of the resources needed to achieve the SDGs, much more funding is required. As a result, the UN is currently exploring “social impact” investment or “innovative finance” mechanisms, a range of non-traditional instruments to raise funds for international development cooperation through public-private partnerships and market-based financial transactions.

For many decades, we have witnessed how the promises and miracles of privatization and PPPs never materialized. Likewise, this new attempt will not be any different. As expected, the “market” and the people behind it do not care about the sustainability or social dimension of their “investment” but rather their own financial gain. The sooner the money offers a return, the better. So, there is a high risk of short-term goals being prioritized over long-term objectives, different UN agencies competing for funds, with each other offering the most attractive “investment portfolio” to seduce stakeholders, or core activities being postponed to make room for more profitable ones.

The for-profit sector poses an existential threat to the UN system and the ILO in particular – the partnership with businesses that are renowned for low wages policy, anti-union stance, tax avoidance, and human rights violations will irremediably affect their reputation and raise questions on their capacity to continue leading efforts to alleviate poverty and improve the working and living conditions of millions of people.

On this WDWD we say that the struggle for decent work is also a struggle in defence of humanity over for-profit interest and corporations who benefit from the commodification and marketization of jobs, health care and social protection.

We thus stand united in solidarity to fight for the dignity of all the workers in the world and demand decent work policies and programmes that will truly achieve these objectives.