Abusive work conditions persist despite gains – UN report

Bea Orante
Abusive work conditions persist despite gains – UN report
The 2015 Human Development Report highlights the unequal benefits of progress in work and human development


MANILA, Philippines – Life has gotten better for many people for the past decades: women are in the workforce, children – for the most part – are not allowed to work, and more people are able to earn a decent living.

But the picture is not so rosy for everyone. 

According to a recent United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) report, there were an estimated 204 million unemployed in 2015. Another 830 million were paid less than $2 a day, putting them right at the poverty line.

The 2015 Human Development Report, “Work for Human Development,” highlighted the unequal benefits of recent progress in both work and human development.

While entrepreneurship, artistry, and volunteerism have contributed to improving the lives of billions, there are still 1.5 billion people out of 7.3 billion – or about 1 in 7 people – who are living without access to schooling, proper food, and safe drinking water.

Although rapid globalization has meant open doors for many skilled workers, 780 million illiterate adults find they have no place in new markets. The 103 million illiterate youth can only dream of participating. (READ: Not all is well with globalization – Lumad, advocates)

Selim Jahan, the report’s lead author, said during the global launch: “We live in an unequal, unstable and unsustainable world. When 80% of world’s population own only 6% of global wealth, that is an unequal world.” (READ: 62 richest own as much as half the world’s richest – report)

‘Slavery-like conditions’ 

Many of those who do have jobs end up working in unsafe conditions. In 2012 alone, an estimated 21 million people were in forced labor. These were workers who were “trafficked for labor and sexual exploitation or held in slavery-like conditions.”

Although most countries have adopted the International Labor Organization’s Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor (1999) and Convention 138 on the minimum age for admission to employment and work (1973), 168 million children are still forced to work, many in hazardous situations.

A report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) detailed the dangers young Filipinos faced as miners. Health dangers like back pain, skin infections, and muscle spasms, coupled with the physical danger of entering the mine shafts have left children terrified.

Migrant workers are also at risk. In exchange for the $583 billion in global remittances, many have reported employers keeping their passports and limiting their movements. Some have experienced physical abuse in their place of work.

In the Philippines, OFWs are lauded as “new heroes.” They brought in $28 billion in 2014. However, there have also been OFWs who were killed, while others experienced deprivation while working abroad. (READ: Fallen ‘heroes’: OFWs turned hungry and homeless)

Unused potential 

The UNDP acknowledged that the changing world of work has been both a boon and a bane for workers. 

According to their report, technology and globalization have made it easier to get jobs abroad. Talented individuals are being courted for high paying positions as new technology requires better skilled workers. 

However, those who do not have the access to the necessary training are missing out on the opportunities.

“There has never been a better time to be a worker with special skills and the right education, because these people can use technology to create and capture value. But there never has been a worse time to be a worker with only ordinary skills and abilities,” said the report. 

Women are also on the losing end, both in terms of opportunities and pay. The report found that, in 2015, only 50% of women are participating in the workforce while it was a 77% participation rate for men – and these rates are still falling.

When women do find work, they are underpaid and in lower positions. On average, women earn 25% less than men and hold only 22% of the senior positions. 

Sustainable Development Goals 

Work plays a major role in accomplishing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). It most directly affects Goal 8, which is about decent and productive work. 

However, it does touch upon several others, including: Goal 1 on eliminating extreme poverty, Goal 2 on hunger, and Goal 6 for inclusive and sustainable growth.

According to the UNDP, achieving those targets requires a focus on good work, not just more jobs. 

For Jahan, the status quo, which put the focus on growth-led employment strategies, would have to be changed. 

Why don’t we think of employment-led growth strategies, where productive and remunerative jobs are created where poor people live, which will create demand and lead to more work resulting in an upward spiral of jobs and growth,” he added.

For Jahan, the nations can pursue whatever course they wish, but reminds people of the long-term implications of their choices: “Whatever we choose will determine the future world that we shall leave for the next generation – for our children and grand children.” – Rappler.com

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