GENEVA (ILO News) - The shortage of adequate employment opportunities is "the fault line in the world today," according to the annual report * of the International Labour Office (ILO) Director-General Juan Somavia to the 89 th Session of the International Labour Conference, which meets in Geneva from 5-21 June.
In his report, which is addressed to Ministers of Labour, employers and workers in the ILO's 175 member States, the Director-General expresses "profound concern about a global decent work deficit of immense proportions, reflecting the diverse inequalities of our societies."
The decent work deficit "is expressed in the absence of sufficient employment opportunities, inadequate social protection, the denial of rights at work and shortcomings in social dialogue." These failings provide "a measure of the gap between the world that we work in and the hopes people have for a better life" and fall into four categories.
The extent of the employment gap is revealed by ILO estimates, which find that "there are 160 million people openly unemployed in the world." However, if underemployed people are taken into account, "the number skyrockets to at least 1 billion." The report says that "of every 100 workers worldwide, six are fully unemployed according to the ILO definition. Another 16 are unable to earn enough to get their families over the most minimal poverty line of US$1 per day."
The rights gap involves such abuses as "the denial of freedom of association and the incidence of forced and child labour and discrimination." According to the Director-General's report, an estimated 250 million children worldwide are working and a recent ILO report on forced labour found trafficking in human beings, especially women and children, to be on the increase. The report cites research by the ILO's International Institute for Labour Studies which "suggests that close to two countries out of every five have serious or severe problems of freedom of association."
The social protection gap is described as "truly alarming" with an estimated 80 per cent of the world's workers lacking in adequate social protection. In many low-income countries, "formal protection for old age and invalidity, or for sickness and health care reaches only a tiny proportion of the population: meanwhile 3,000 people a day die as a consequence of work-related accidents or disease." In higher income countries, income insecurity is a growing problem and "workplace anxiety, depression and exhaustion are often reported."
The social dialogue gap reflects shortfalls in organizations and institutions and often in attitudes that have resulted in a major "representational gap in the world of work resulting from the fact that workers and employers have frequently and for diverse reasons, not organized to make their voices heard." Examples include the roughly 27 million workers worldwide in Export Processing Zones and millions more in the informal economy who are either excluded from or under-represented in tripartite dialogue.
While acknowledging that average incomes are rising worldwide and that the global economy shows great potential for innovation and productivity, the report notes that "gains are accompanied by persistent inequality, growing exclusion, insecurities caused by economic fluctuations and a feeling that the ground rules are unfair."
The Director-General's report highlights "a growing polarization of opinion regarding the pattern and direction of globalization." But the report also identifies "a growing awareness that something needs to be done to bridge this divide" and a need to respond to silent frustrations. The Director-General welcomes "a widespread receptiveness to the idea that achieving greater opportunities of decent work for all is an appropriate goal for the global economy." He urges that its potential for bridging the divide on globalization should be explored.
According to Mr. Somavia, "The goal of decent work is best expressed through the eyes of people." For workers faced with extreme poverty, decent work "is about moving from subsistence to existence" and is "the primary route out of poverty." For many others, "it is about realizing personal aspirations in their daily existence and about solidarity with others." He added that "everywhere, and for everybody, decent work is about securing human dignity."
The Director-General argues that "reducing the decent work deficit is the quality road to poverty reduction and to greater legitimacy of the global economy." He observes that decent work is a goal in its own right but there is also an economic dividend - "economic and social efficiency can go together". He emphasizes that an integrated approach is essential - each element of decent work reinforces the others and all play a part in achieving broad goals such as poverty eradication.
His report also draws attention to a series of recent reforms and modernization within the Organization designed to "focus the ILO's energies on decent work as a major global demand of our time."
He ends with a call to ILO member States to seize the opportunity to help reduce the global decent work deficit.
* "Reducing the Decent Work Deficit: A Global Challenge", Report of the Director-General of the International Labour Office, International Labour Conference, 89 th Session, Geneva, 2001. ISBN 92-2-111949-1; price: 15 Swiss Francs.