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Time to prioritize social justice
by International Labour Organization (ILO)
7:38am 26th Apr, 2023
May 2023
ILO Director-General calls for a Global Coalition for Social Justice and a reshaping of economic, social and environmental policies to create a more stable and equitable future.
"May 1st is widely known as Labour Day, a day when we celebrate the contribution of workers worldwide. It is a moment for pride, celebration and hope.
After three years of the COVID-19 crisis, followed by inflation, conflict, and food and fuel supply shocks, we badly need this. But the promises of renewal made during the pandemic, of ‘building back better’, have so far not been delivered for the great majority of workers worldwide.
Globally, real wages have fallen, poverty is rising, inequality seems more entrenched than ever.
Enterprises have been hard hit. Many could not cope with the cumulative effects of recent unexpected events. Small and micro-enterprises were particularly affected, and many have ceased operations.
People feel that the sacrifices they made to get through COVID-19 have not been recognized, let alone rewarded. Their voices are not being heard clearly enough. This, combined with a perceived lack of opportunities, has created a disturbing level of mistrust.
It doesn’t have to be like this. We are still the masters of our fate. But if we are to shape a new, more stable, and equitable world, we must choose a different path. One that prioritizes social justice.
I believe this is not only do-able but essential for a sustainable and stable future. So, how do we get there?
First and foremost, our policies and actions must be human-centred, to allow people to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, economic security and equal opportunity. This approach is not new, it was set out and agreed in the aftermath of World War Two, when the ILO’s international membership signed the 1944 Declaration of Philadelphia.
This visionary document set out guiding principles for our economic and social systems, that they should not be turned exclusively to hitting specific growth rates or other statistical targets, but to address human needs and aspirations.
This means focusing on inequality, poverty alleviation and core social protection. The most effective way to do this is by providing quality jobs so that people can support themselves and build their own futures – ‘Decent Work for All’, as Sustainable Development Goal 8 terms it.
It means realistically addressing the long-term structural transformations of our time; ensuring that new technology creates and supports employment; pro-actively facing the challenges of climate change and ensuring we offer the jobs, skills training and transition support necessary for workers and businesses to benefit from the new low-carbon era; treating demographic changes as a ‘dividend’ rather than a problem, with supporting action on skills, migration and social protection, to create more cohesive and resilient societies.
We also need to reassess and refashion the architecture of our social and economic systems, so that they support this change of course towards social justice, rather than continuing to channel us into a policy ‘doom loop’ of inequality and instability.
We must reinvigorate labour institutions and organizations so that social dialogue is effective and vigorous. We must review laws and regulations affecting the world of work, so that they are relevant and up-to-date and able to protect workers and support sustainable businesses.
To make all this happen, we need to recommit to international cooperation and solidarity. We must enhance our efforts and create greater policy coherence, particularly within the multilateral system, as the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres calls it.
This is why we need a Global Coalition for Social Justice. This Coalition will create a platform to bring together a broad range of international bodies and stakeholders. It will position social justice as the keystone of the global recovery, so that it is prioritized in national, regional and global policies and actions. In sum, it will ensure that our future is human-centred.
We have the chance to reshape the world we live in – economically, socially and environmentally. Let us take this opportunity and move forward to build the equitable and resilient societies that can underpin lasting peace and social justice".
* ILO Report: Advancing Social Justice:
Apr. 2023
Social justice indispensable to overcome global challenges, ILO tells World Bank/IMF.
Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Gilbert Houngbo, calls for coherent multilateral action to strengthen the social dimension of sustainable development and economic growth – as envisaged by the ILO’s proposed Global Coalition for Social Justice. (Extract)
"According to the IMF, uncertainties in the world economy remain exceptionally high, with global economic growth expected to fall below 3 per cent this year because of the war in Ukraine, scarring from the Covid-19 pandemic and monetary tightening.
This global economic slowdown is likely to force more workers to accept lower quality, poorly paid jobs which lack employment security and social protection, accentuating inequalities that were already exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.
Global employment growth stands to be only 1.0 per cent in 2023, less than half the level in 2022. Global unemployment is projected by the ILO to rise to 208 million. This would mark a reversal of the decline in global unemployment seen between 2020-2022. It means that global unemployment will remain 16 million above the pre-crisis benchmark (set in 2019).
Women and young people are faring significantly worse in labour markets. Globally, the labour force participation rate of women stood at 47.4 per cent in 2022, compared with 72.3 per cent for men. This 24.9 percentage point gap means that for every economically inactive man there are two such women.
Young people (aged 15–24) face severe difficulties in finding and keeping decent employment. Their unemployment rate is three times that of adults. More than one-in-five – 23.5 per cent – of young people are not in employment, education or training.
Due to the slowdown in global employment growth, the ILO does not forecast the losses incurred during the COVID-19 crisis to be recovered before 2025. The slowdown in productivity growth is also a significant concern, given its essential role in addressing the interlinked crises we face in purchasing power, ecological sustainability and human well-being.
Wages and purchasing power
The severe rise in inflation, combined with a global slowdown in economic growth, are causing a striking fall in real monthly wages in many countries. The crisis is reducing the purchasing power of the middle classes and hitting low-income households particularly hard. The current inflationary context is biting into real wage growth in most regions in the world.
Global monthly wages fell in real terms to minus 0.9 per cent in the first half of 2022. For the first time in the twenty-first century, real wage growth has fallen to negative values.
The cost-of-living crisis comes on top of significant wage losses for workers and their families during the COVID-19 crisis. Rising inflation has a greater cost-of-living impact on lower-income earners. This is because they spend most of their disposable income on essential goods and services, which generally experience greater price increases than non-essential items.
Inflation is also biting into the purchasing power of minimum wages. Estimates show that despite nominal adjustments taking place, accelerating price inflation is quickly eroding the real value of minimum wages in many countries.
From the second quarter of 2022 onwards, central banks and monetary authorities across the globe have responded to the current inflation crisis by, in particular, raising interest rates to stop inflation from soaring further. However, the tight monetary policy could lead to adverse outcomes for certain segments of the population and trigger a period of recession. Although central banks are aware of this risk, the alternative scenario of continued price inflation is considered even more undesirable.
ILO research shows that nominal wages are not catching up with inflation as measured by the CPI, and that the gap between wage growth and labour productivity growth in high-income countries is continuing to widen, with labour productivity increasing in the first half of 2022 and wages falling in real terms. Hence, there would appear to be scope in many countries for increasing wages without fear of generating a wage–price spiral.
Impacts on inequalities, and the necessary policy responses
Income inequality and poverty will rise if the purchasing power of the lowest paid is not maintained. In addition, a much-needed post pandemic recovery could be put at risk. This could fuel further social unrest across the world and undermine the goal of achieving prosperity and peace for all. There is an urgent need to apply well-designed policy measures to help maintain the purchasing power and living standards of wage workers and their families.
Adequate adjustment of minimum wage rates could be an effective tool, given that 90 per cent of countries have minimum wage systems in place. Strong tripartite social dialogue and collective bargaining can also help to achieve adequate wage adjustments during a crisis. This could contribute to safeguarding the standard of living of households – particularly low-income households – against unexpected future inflation hikes.
It is also important to ensure the adjustment of social protection benefits to the rising cost of living if we are to protect the purchasing power of households, especially those on low-incomes, and prevent an even greater number of persons from falling into poverty.
More than half of all social protection schemes for which the ILO has data do not have any specific rules to adjust benefit levels to changes in the cost of living, while the remaining schemes have rules that adjust the amount of benefit to inflation, real wages or a mix of the two.
Other policies that can ease the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on households include measures targeting specific groups, such as giving vouchers to low-income households to help them buy essential goods, or cutting Value Added Tax on these goods to reduce the burden inflation places on households while also helping to bring down inflation.
Particular attention is needed to workers at the middle and lower end of the pay scale. Fighting against the deterioration of real wages can help maintain economic growth, which in turn can help to restore the employment levels observed before the pandemic. This can be an effective way to lessen the probability or depth of recessions in all countries and regions.
The pay gap between women and men continues to be an important factor behind wage inequality. Given that the gender pay gap remains persistently high across countries and regions, greater efforts are required to further reduce gender pay inequalities.
This includes improving the educational situation of women and striving for a more equitable distribution of women and men across occupations and industries. It also includes reducing the motherhood pay gap, increasing pay in undervalued, highly feminized sectors and industries, and implementing legal frameworks and policies to increase pay transparency at the enterprise level with a view to eliminating pay discrimination.
Countries across the world should make use of platforms like the Equal Pay International Coalition to learn from successful examples of how to measure and monitor pay gaps at the national level, and to familiarize themselves with the tools that some major economies are applying and understand which are most effective in reducing pay discrimination between women and men.
Just green transitions and ecological sustainability
The major transformations under way, involving new technologies, demographic shifts and climate change, are having both disruptive and transformative effects on our economies and on work. A human-centred agenda requires major investments that shape and guide these transformations to create decent work and promote social justice.
Countries need to now prioritize long-term, sustainable investments that favour human development and protect the planet. New rules, business incentives and economic policy targets can better direct investments towards areas of the economy that advance decent work, gender equality and sustainable development, at the same time providing a foundation for high value-added activities.
The action needed to mitigate climate change will necessarily have a transformative impact on the world of work. We do not underestimate the scale of disruption to businesses and workers that this transformation will cause. But carefully designed adaptation strategies hold the potential for a net positive employment impact through a just transition for all actors in the world of work, in line with the ILO Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all.
Investing more in the green economy can advance an inclusive future of work, because environmental degradation disproportionately affects vulnerable populations and low-income countries. Major investment and innovation opportunities await in renewable energy and environmentally sustainable construction and retrofitting, with significant employment creation and reskilling impacts. Micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises are especially important partners in designing local adaptations to climate change.
Social protection floors for all and human well-being
Universal social protection is a human right and a State responsibility. In addition, there is increased recognition that social protection is fundamental in reducing poverty and inequality, in improving human capital and productivity and in supporting decent work and economic dynamism. The ILO is committed, therefore, to contributing to the development of sustainable and resilient social protection systems and extending their coverage, comprehensiveness, and adequacy.
The COVID-19 crisis highlighted how crucial national social protection systems are to protect people from both routine life-cycle risks as well as systemic crises and shocks. In addition to claiming more than 6 million lives, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented loss of jobs and livelihoods.
This has exacerbated income insecurity around the world, particularly for the more than half of the global population without any access to social protection, including the 2 billion workers in the informal economy. However, the pandemic has contributed to increasing the financing gaps for social protection by at least 30 per cent, as countries have sought to mitigate the health and economic effects of the crisis, at the same time as revenues were falling due to lower growth and trade.
Constrained by higher debt burdens, many countries now face a difficult trade-off between on the one hand, increasing much-needed public investments to overcome the multiple crises they face, achieve a human-centred recovery and facilitate the structural transformations and just transitions that are necessary to achieve the SDGs and beyond, and, on the other hand, containing debt vulnerabilities.
Mobilizing financing on the scale required to address the financing gaps and overcome the devastating socio-economic hardship and job losses caused by the current multiple crises and the growing climate emergency is vital.
It is critical that finance is mobilized to create productive employment, extend social protection coverage, and protect the chronically poor and those who have been most affected, including women, children, persons with disabilities, migrants, and workers in the informal economy, among others.
Boosting international support for social protection
The international community must support existing or new financing strategies which can mobilize additional resources, support better use of existing resources, and enhance coordination between multiple domestic and international sources of finance including development, climate, and humanitarian finance.
Multilateral partnerships need to focus on complementary streams of work: domestic public resources, domestic and international financing and international development cooperation.
A Global Coalition for Social Justice
Social justice makes societies and economies function more cohesively and productively, by reducing poverty and hunger, inequalities, and social tensions. Given its central importance to inclusive and sustainable socio-economic development, social justice should be seen as one of the cornerstones of the renewed multilateralism that is required to overcome current challenges – a rallying point as well as an organizing principle for a more efficient and coherent multilateral system that supports national efforts across a range of policy areas and interventions.
The quest for social justice goes beyond the world of work and requires the involvement of the multilateral system as a whole. Failure to act on social justice in one domain undermines progress in others. This has been particularly evident during the recent COVID-19 crisis and the subsequent energy and food crises.
Accordingly, the ILO is forging a Global Coalition for Social Justice that will act as a platform to elevate the political debate on social justice, strengthen understanding of the urgent need for social justice and the economic case for increased investment in it.
The joint efforts under this initiative will aim to generate more social investments that can act as a catalyst for the mobilization of funds and strengthen domestic and international support for on-the-ground actions. The Global Coalition for Social Justice will provide the platform for an effective and coherent multilateral effort to strengthen the social dimension of sustainable development and economic growth.
Mar. 2023
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how societies have undervalued essential workers, as well as the importance of giving workers adequate pay and decent working conditions.
Countries need to improve the working conditions and earnings of key workers – who were essential during the COVID-19 crisis – to fully reflect their contribution to society and their importance in the daily functioning of economies, a new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) says.
The report, World Employment and Social Outlook 2023: The value of essential work , underscores the extent to which economies and societies depend on key workers, and also how they are undervalued.
The poor working conditions of key workers exacerbate employee turnover and labour shortages, jeopardizing the provision of basic services. Improvements in working conditions and greater investment in food systems, health care and other key sectors are necessary for building economic and social resilience to shocks, the report says.
Key workers can be found in eight main occupational groups covering health, food systems, retail, security, cleaning and sanitation, transport, manual, and technical and clerical occupations.
In the 90 countries where data was available, 52 per cent of all employment is done by key workers, although in high-income countries, where economic activities are more diversified, the share is lower (34 per cent).
During the COVID-19 crisis key workers suffered higher mortality rates than non-key workers, overall. Among different categories of key workers mortality rates varied; for example, in countries with available data, transport workers had higher mortality rates than health workers.
The findings reveal the importance of occupational safety and health (OSH) protection, as well as the greater security associated with working in formal workplaces, with collective representation.
Lower wages, longer hours, and other deficits in working conditions
Across the world 29 per cent of key workers are low paid (where low paid is defined as pay that is less than two-thirds of the hourly median wage). On average, key workers earn 26 per cent less than other employees, with only two-thirds of this gap being accounted for by education and experience. In food systems, the share of low paid key employees is particularly high, at 47 per cent, and in cleaning and sanitation it is 31 per cent.
These sectors employ a large share of migrants, especially in high-income countries.
Nearly one-in-three key workers is on a temporary contract, although there are considerable country and sectoral differences. In the food industry 46 per cent are in temporary work. One-in-three employees in manual occupations and in cleaning and sanitation, are on temporary contracts.
Cleaning and security work is commonly outsourced, and other key occupations are routinely staffed with agency workers. This is particularly the case in warehousing and increasingly so in healthcare.
More than 46 per cent of key employees in low-income countries work long hours. Long working hours are more common in transport, where nearly 42 per cent of key workers across the globe work more than 48 hours a week. A substantial share of key workers around the world also have irregular schedules or short hours.
Nearly 60 per cent of key workers in low- and middle-income countries lack some form of social protection. In low-income countries social protection is minimal, only reaching 17 per cent of key workers. The picture is even bleaker for self-employed key workers in most developing countries, as they are almost entirely without social protection.
Ensuring decent work
“Healthcare workers, supermarket cashiers, delivery workers, postal workers, seafarers, cleaners, and others supplying food and necessities continued to perform their jobs, day in and day out, even at the height of the pandemic, often at great personal risk,” said ILO Director-General, Gilbert Houngbo.
“Valuing key workers means ensuring that they receive adequate pay and work in good conditions. Decent work is an objective for all workers but it is particularly critical for key workers, who provide vital necessities and services both in good times and bad.”
To ensure the continuity of essential services during future pandemics or other shocks such as natural disasters, the report recommends greater investment in the physical infrastructure, productive capacity and human resources of key sectors. Under-investment, especially in health and food systems, contributes to decent work deficits that undermine both social justice and economic resilience. Among other recommendations, the report calls for:
Ensuring that Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) systems cover all branches of economic activity and all workers, with clear duties and rights specified, through collaboration between government, workers’ and employers’ representatives.
Improving pay to compensate for key worker undervaluation and to reduce the wage gap between key and non-key employees, including through negotiated or statutory minimum wages.
Guaranteeing safe and predictable working hours through regulation, including collective bargaining. Adapting legal frameworks so that all workers, regardless of their employment status and contractual arrangements, are covered by social protection, especially paid sick leave. Increasing access to training so that key workers can carry out their work effectively and safely.
The report outlines a framework that countries can use, as part of a process of social dialogue, to identify gaps in decent work and economic resilience in respect of their key workers and essential services and to develop a national strategy to address these through strengthened policies and investment.
ILO welcomes new UN resolution on social and solidarity economy.
ILO Director-General, Gilbert Houngbo, has welcomed the new UN Resolution on promoting the social and solidarity economy for sustainable development, passed by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
The social and solidarity economy is characterized by voluntary cooperation and mutual aid, democratic and/or participatory governance, and autonomy and independence. Working across economic sectors, social and solidarity economy entities underline the primacy of people and social purpose over capital in the distribution and use of profits and assets. They include cooperatives, associations, mutual societies, foundations, self-help and voluntary groups.
The resolution recognizes that the social and solidarity economy can contribute to the achievement and localization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In particular, the UN Resolution emphasizes the contribution of the social and solidarity economy to decent work, the promotion of international labour standards and fundamental rights at work, poverty alleviation, and social transformation and inclusion.
“The social and solidarity economy is now, rightfully, getting global recognition for the part it can play in shaping a sustainable, just and resilient future for us all,” said Houngbo.
“A broad, healthy social and solidarity economy can play an important role in reducing inequalities and spreading prosperity, opportunity and sustainability. At the same time, it can help create a virtuous circle, bringing greater awareness of the need for social justice, which in turn will encourage the systemic changes we need for the social and solidarity economy to flourish.”
Feb. 2023
Inequality is a barrier to social justice
A combination of mutually-reinforcing crises – inflation, debt, food and fuel price rises, geopolitical tensions and conflict, climate change are increasing poverty, inequality and discrimination worldwide.
Around the world people are struggling to recover from the socioeconomic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, which devastated lives and deepened inequalities.
Women’s share of total incomes from work is less than 35 per cent, just a five per cent rise relative to 1990. 214 million workers live in extreme poverty, on less than $1.90 a day, and the number of working poor is increasing in developing countries.
Far too many people are forced to eke out a living on less than $2.00 a day without rights and social protection and little prospects for a better future.
Poverty and inequalities within and among countries are on the rise in many parts of the world. Inequality remains very high, with annual gross domestic product per capita ranging from about $600 at purchasing power parity in the poorest country to more than $115,000 in the richest country.
The top 10 per cent of the global population currently takes 52 per cent of global income, whereas the poorest half earns 6.5 per cent of it.
Some 290 million young people globally are not in education, employment, or training, while two billion people work in the informal economy. Unstable jobs and income, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions and no social protection led to a disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on these workers that saw their earnings drop by 60 per cent in 2020.
The world needs a strong and sustained dose of social justice says ILO's Director-General, Gilbert F. Houngbo:
"We have the 5%, 10% of the richest in the world that sees their wealth keep growing. Then on the other hand, when you talk about 50% of the world's population with zero social protection, you have more than 200 million people, workers that are remaining poor despite 40 hours of work. They cannot secure a $1.90 per day. Working poverty, the working poor.
With COVID, I remember very well, how striking it was when we, that were living in this part of the world were vaccinated at the rate of 70%. When I called my family back home in Togo, the vaccination was maybe at 5%.
It's important to bring social justice back on the front line. The very important thing is really fighting against inequalities, discrimination, ensuring every human being should have same opportunity. Having decent work and dignifying work, people are not asking more than that. Having a minimum protection, what the ILO calls the social protection floors, is part of the social justice.
Let's be very clear. Social justice goes beyond ILO mandate. The right to food security. The right to health. Access to water and sanitation, access to education, having the freedom, the voice to express what one feels, or work safely. I can go on. Gender equality and inclusion. The right to social protection.
Essentially, we need to ensure that our life, our social contracts are balanced, that we don't create too much inequalities. What's the value of making financial progress just to end up by fueling 5% of the richest and having the majority of people still in the dark?"

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