The pandemic has driven poverty and damaged worker rights, particularly for women and young people, but creating decent work for all can help build a more resilient, sustainable and inclusive future
The G20 ministers of labour and employment this year recognised “the need for a human-centred policy approach that leads to greater social justice and decent work for all”. But as the world recovers from the COVID-19 recession, there are major challenges in the way of reaching those objectives. Building a “new and better normal” – economically, socially and environmentally – while taking into account the forces underlying the future of work, such as technology, demographics and climate change, requires two sets of interlinked actions.
First, we need to leverage the economic transformations currently taking place in order to create decent work for all through increased investments in sectors with strong employment potential, including in the digital and green economies. For these to pay off socially, investment is needed in enabling sustainable enterprises to flourish as well as in human capabilities to increase employability and productivity. We must also focus on the specific obstacles faced by women and youth and on the needs of specific population groups, such as migrant workers, people with disabilities and older workers.
Second, we need to support just transitions, whether between sectors, from the informal to the formal economy or towards a more digital world, as economic transformations will entail trade-offs and may leave many workers and enterprises behind. Such support includes investing in universal social protection, implementing well-targeted active labour market policies and strengthening labour market institutions to adequately govern the world of work and protect all workers. Indeed, the COVID-19 crisis has threatened the four fundamental principles and rights at work: freedom of association and the elimination of forced labour, child labour and discrimination. As people across the globe hope and reach for a recovery that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient, let’s remember that these core labour standards constitute the foundation of such a human-centred recovery.
In addition, we need to address the multiple and growing inequalities that the pandemic has made worse. By way of illustration:
- Young people have experienced a drop in employment rates 2.5 times greater than their older counterparts;
- Women’s employment declined proportionately 40% more than men’s in 2020, and will stay below its 2019 levels in 2021;
- And working poverty rates have reverted to those of 2015, with an additional 108 million people worldwide now among the working poor.
Furthermore, countries that attain the greatest advantages in access to vaccines, which have the most fiscal space to stimulate their economies and enjoy the highest levels of connectivity, can anticipate getting back more rapidly to pre-pandemic levels of gross domestic product and employment than low-income countries, for which the prospects are starkly different. Deep inequities in vaccine distribution and vastly different fiscal firepower will inject a double dose of more inequality into the world of work, with a booster from uneven digital connectivity – that is, unless deliberate action is taken to prevent it.
The international community can take action by mobilising the finance necessary to implement three universally agreed and highly complementary roadmaps: the G20’s Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator Initiative, the International Labour Organization’s Global Call to Action for a Human-Centred Recovery That Is Inclusive, Sustainable and Resilient, and the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The international financial architecture – the balance sheets and tools of the international financial institutions, multilateral development banks and bilateral development finance institutions – can be harnessed just as creatively and expansively to address the lack of capacity in developing countries as those of the central banks and treasuries of advanced countries have been for domestic purposes.
The international community should assist in financing the domestic institutions that underpin socially inclusive development, shifting activities and resources to help countries design and properly staff the public administrative functions that are crucial to an economy’s social inclusivity and dynamism. This includes building effective public agencies that administer labour standards and social protections, including with respect to their extension to the informal economy, and institutions of social dialogue that provide for broader participation in the setting of government and enterprise strategies and practices, giving these a solid foundation of trust.
The G20 at its Rome Summit can move the needle forward on all these points and contribute to ensuring an inclusive, sustainable and resilient recovery globally.