Millions of workers and their families are at risk of poverty due to the corona pandemic. Now the world must increase its focus on social security systems and cooperation between unions and employers. To achieve the global goals, independent and democratic unions are crucial, writes Sofia Östmark at Union to Union.
The UN has declared that 2020 would be the start of the "decade of action" to achieve the global goals for sustainable development by 2030. The Secretary-General, António Guterres, has stated that we have come a long way but that global challenges such as conflict, climate crisis and inequality is holding us back. Now a new stone has been added to the burden. The corona pandemic that characterizes human existence on the entire planet risks undermining the work that has been done - and reversing development.
Goal 8 is about achieving inclusive and long-term sustainable economic growth. In addition, we must achieve full and productive employment with decent working conditions for all. The underlying analysis is that work that can be supported is a condition for people to be able to get out of poverty. More people must have secure working conditions, formal employment with collective agreements and social security, as well as fair wages and a safe working environment. Forced labor and child labor must be abolished.
The United Nations Labor Organization (ILO) reported last year that progress towards Objective 8 has so far been small. The majority of the world's workforce - two billion workers - operates in the informal economy. Many jobs do not have decent conditions, men and women do not receive equal pay for equal work and unemployment is high. Estimates claimed that approximately 172 million people were unemployed in 2018.
Millions of jobs could disappear
Since then, the world situation has deteriorated significantly. The corona pandemic puts millions of workers and their families at risk of poverty - and those who are already at the bottom are finding it harder to cope. Insecurity is greatest in developing countries. The ILO wrote at the end of April this year that so-called "lockdowns" affected about 68 percent of the world's total workforce and that more than 300 million full-time jobs will disappear in the second quarter of 2020. In the informal economy, it was estimated that 1,6 billion people are affected by layoffs societies and sectors. Women, young people and migrant workers are at particular risk. The figures are uncertain, but it is certain that the consequences of the pandemic will be enormous.
Covid-19 has clearly shown that the global goals are connected. When people lose their livelihoods, we risk, without a functioning welfare system globally, not achieving the goals of eradicating poverty and hunger. Or to guarantee health and education for all.
Large-scale and coordinated measures are needed to preserve jobs and to protect people in the event of loss of income. In this context, international development cooperation will be one of the most important tools for supporting and creating socio-economic recovery for the countries most affected.
Achieving goal 8 requires an increased focus on social security systems and on the continuous cooperation and dialogue between the social partners, also known as social dialogue. Through social dialogue, the social partners in some countries have been able to reach agreements that mitigate the effects of the crisis for both workers and employers. The Global Deal partnership, which is an initiative of the Swedish government, is an excellent platform for intensifying support for social dialogue worldwide. It needs to have more impact in development cooperation.
Strong unions are important
An important part of developing and implementing sustainable solutions, at local and global level, are strong unions and employers' organizations. Independent and democratic trade unions can help to curb both the crisis and the spread of infection. In addition, they can contribute to a sustainable recovery with decent jobs when the worst shocks have subsided.
We have seen that the hotel and restaurant union in Kenya has negotiated with the employer so that the employees in the paralyzed hotel sector will not lose their jobs. We have seen how the Palestinian Union of Nurses provides health workers with the necessary protective equipment. And we see that the global union for agricultural workers, hotel and restaurant employees as well as employees in food production distributes leaflets to inform about how the spread of covid-19 can be prevented.
But the unions are facing trials today. When people lose their jobs, they no longer have the opportunity to pay their membership fees and the unions weaken when they are needed most. Trade union development cooperation is currently more important than ever for building strong, representative and democratic trade unions.
The global challenge is not only recovery, but also development and progress towards goal 8. A fair transition (so-called Just Transition) will be required with environmentally and socially sustainable initiatives that contribute to more decent work on a living planet. We must also create the conditions for a more equal labor market after the crisis.
Last but not least, we should work for a faster formalization of the informal economy in order to create security for millions of people. This will be required to protect the majority of the world's workers in future crises and economic shocks.
10 years left to reach decent working conditions and economic growth
More than half of all workers today have precarious employment. They often have poor pay and poor access to social insurance. Goal 8 of the Global Sustainable Development Goals is about protecting workers' rights and stopping slavery, human trafficking and child labor. Together with good conditions for innovation, it promotes sustainable economic growth that includes the whole of society.
According to the global goals in Agenda 2030, decent working conditions and sustainable economic growth must be ensured by 2030.