Decent work and social protection should be included in the Post-2015 Agenda | An interview with Matt Simmonds

Matt Simmonds of the Trade Union Developments Cooperation NetworkMatt Simmonds is the liaison officer for the platform of civil society organisations that sits in the OECD Working Party on Aid Effectiveness (WP- Eff), BetterAid in Paris. He is housed in the office of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC), where his responsibilities include facilitating and strengthening the advocacy work of the platform primarily through liaising on a regular basis with the OECD secretariat and other stakeholders of the WP- Eff. Prior to this role, he worked at the United Nations office of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), where, in his capacity as policy associate, he followed several UN processes such as the UN Financing for Development Process. He holds a Master's Degree in International Development from the New School in New York.

To what extent has the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework influenced the international community towards improving liveable and workable conditions for workers in marginalised areas of the world?

The MDGs, as originally developed in 2000, very much overlooked the employment dimension when trying to address poverty under MDG 1. No surprises then that, also overlooked, were conditions of employment and the challenges workers face the world over especially in those parts of the world where they are most marginalised. So it is safe to say that at least from the very outset, the MDG framework would not have had much influence on the international community in addressing the challenges faced by workers.

However, at the point when the MDG review process began, it was clear that issues around employment and decent work needed to be addressed head on if progress was to be made against MDG 1. So in 2008 the sub target (1b) to Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people was integrated into the MDG Framework, along with a number of indicators to measure progress on this sub target.

The inclusion of a sub target on employment and decent work was a clear signal from and to the international community that improving the livelihoods of people through access to decent work would be fundamental to achieving MDG 1, but it came too late. So despite this recognition by the international community, challenges remain and in many parts of the world access to decent work and productive employment is limited and/or shrinking. As a result many workers remain without formal employment, without access to decent work and social protection and without the means to claim their rights and improve their living conditions.

More comprehensive action is required to overcome the failures and ensure gender equality and women's rights. A paradigm shift is needed. A new development agenda that delivers equity, social inclusion, decent work, structural transformation and sustainable livelihoods for working people while protecting our environment is needed and should be based on a human rights based approach as well as on the principles of democratic ownership and leadership. The Post-2015 Agenda, integrating the Sustainable Development Goals, should set global and universal goals, translated into country-owned targets and indicators as well as addressing the issue of global public goods, global challenges and global governance.

What are some of the dire challenges that currently confront marginalised workers, which need to be prioritised in a Post- 2015 Agenda?

The world of work is changing continuously, but violations of legitimate worker and trade union rights remain widespread. Despite international consensus on the importance of trade union rights and international ratified conventions that support the promotion of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, there are major issues and challenges when it comes to compliance in practice.

The Post-2015 Agenda should make priority democratic ownership of socio-economic development policies while similarly focusing on the enabling environment for Civil Society. Civil society participation, including trade unions in social dialogue and collective bargaining structures, is not only a human right, but also an effective mechanism contributing to social and economic inequalities reduction and a prerequisite for the agenda's overall effectiveness, credibility and sustainability.

To address these challenges the international trade union movement is pushing for the Post-2015 process to include as two separate 'goals' in a future framework: decent work for all and universal social protection.

What are some of the global challenges that are likely to continue to affect the livelihoods and conditions of marginalised workers in the near future?

The MDGs have coincided with a major economic and structural transformation in the global economy marked by relentless pursuit of economic expansion through globalization led economic growth, with little to no regard for its impact on the lives of workers and people in general. This has been evidenced by a troubling trend which began before the economic crisis and has continued since, of a declining employment to GDP ratio across the globe combined with an erosion of the conditions of employment and increasingly unequal societies--all while economies have grown. Unfortunately, despite that the recent crisis clearly exposed deep and structural flaws with this economic model, very little has actually changed and the following challenges remain:

  • Social and economic inequalities: The most significant and worrying trend is increasing inequity. Economic inequality has been widening at global and national levels, leading to social unrest and social tensions in many countries. Inequality has been a factor in destabilising the economy and inhibiting poverty reduction.
  • Poverty: Despite progress at the global level in poverty reduction, even at the current rate of progress, estimates indicate that about 1 billion people will still be living on less than $1.25 a day in 2015, corresponding to an extreme poverty rate of just below 16% globally. This is unacceptable.
  • Precarious work and working poor: According to ILO statistics, there were still 456 million workers in the world living below the $1.25 a day poverty line in 2011. The global number of people in vulnerable employment is 1.52 billion. The prevalence of informal work arrangements is increasing in rich and poor countries and now stands at around 40% of the global labour force. Women and young people are more likely to find themselves in such insecure and poorly paid positions than the rest of the employed population.
  • Environmental degradation: Environmental destruction is displacing families and communities from their lands and productive livelihoods. Climate change threatens the sustainability of the planet itself. 1.8 billion people are expected to face water scarcity by 2025. 180 million will be affected by food shortages. There will be 200 million climate migrants by 2050. We will also need 50% more food, 45% more energy and 30% more water by 2050. Our planet and people are at risk.
  • Shrinking space for civil society: Over the last years in many countries legal and extra-legal measures were introduced or attempted by both state and non-state actors to limit the activities and influence of civil society, violating people's civil and political rights. Civil society's engagement, including trade unions, has been also limited in many global level policy processes, leading to their failure in providing adequate and people-centred responses to the current global economic, social, political and environmental challenges.

On what issues should governments converge with civil society organizations, non- governmental organizations, trade unions and the private sector in order to provide a combined solution to challenges of the marginalised working class?

There are number areas of convergence between governments and non-executive stakeholders.

  • Decent work: Domestic macroeconomic policies that ensure full and decent employment-including investment in green job promotion, reducing precarious work and ensuring a living wage as well as complying with international labour rights for all workers and gender equality at the workplace- should be combined with appropriate income and social policies in order to effectively address economic and social inequality and poverty.
  • Social protection: Quality public services and social protection are a crucial element of social policies to effectively address poverty, inequality and social exclusion. But above all, social protection is a human right and it is governments' duty and obligation to ensure its extension to all citizens.
  • Effective taxation policies: Effective taxation policies, including a progressive income tax and effective domestic, foreign and transnational private sector taxation, are important to ensure funding for social protection floors, climate action and development. The introduction of Financial Transactions Taxes will ensure that the financial sector makes an equitable contribution to funding global public goods and for repairing the costs of financial crises.
  • Policy Coherence for Development: In order to reach the vision, coherent policy approach is needed both at international and national levels, including macroeconomic policies, trade and investment agreements, migration regulations and related policies, ensuring that all of the policies contribute to the achievement of the vision and objectives set by the new agenda.
  • Democratic ownership and enabling environment for civil society: Civil society participation, including trade unions in social dialogue and collective bargaining structures, is not only a human right, but also an effective mechanism contributing to social and economic inequalities reduction and a prerequisite for the agenda's overall effectiveness, credibility and sustainability.
  • Focus on human rights and well-being for all: The post-2015 process must also include a transition to more comprehensive measuring of human and economic development which complements GDP with assessment of more equal wealth distribution and well-being based on the universal human rights framework.
  • Environmental sustainability: Respect for environmental boundaries is crucial not only for the future generations, but also for millions of people affected by various challenges that result from environmental degradation and climate change. A shift to a genuine green economy is needed with new decent jobs created from environmentally-friendly investments and millions other jobs transformed into sustainable ones.

How is the ITUC engaging with the Post- 2015 Agenda?

The ITUC welcomes the initiative of the UN system and the inclusion of global civil society to work on the new UN development agenda, which will replace the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015. Even though the MDG framework has many shortcomings in its approach, structure, content and – as proven over the years - effectiveness, trade unions believe a common global development agenda, supported through the UN system, can play an important role in mobilising and coordinating world-wide efforts to advance human development. The ITUC and its affiliated organisations around the world are committed to ensure a meaningful and representative trade union contribution to the post-2015 process, advocating for the inclusion of decent work and social protection goals in the new agenda.