Realising Decent Work and Social Protection for All: How civil society organisations are creating change

Realising Decent Work and Social Protection for All: How civil society organisations are creating change

The global economic and food crises that have struck in recent years have left little doubt as to our vulnerability to changing circumstances.

The recent earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan have stretched the resources of one of the most developed nations in the world to near breaking point, leaving many thousands of people without homes and livelihoods. Globalisation, changing markets and economic, environmental and financial shocks coalesce to not only push those who are poor and vulnerable further into extreme poverty, but to continually create new vulnerable groups who have been unable to adapt to or cope with changing circumstances. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that the global financial crisis alone could have pushed 200 million people into poverty and is wiping out some of the progress made in  achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Despite the widespread acceptance that countries that had effective and efficient social security systems in place before the crisis hit were much better equipped to cope with its fallout, only 20 per cent of the world’s population has adequate social protection coverage. Yet the effects of crises are only a symptom of a much broader and sustained lack of global equity.

Investment in a basic level of social protection for all is not just a basic human right and a social need, but an economic necessity. Social protection does more than provide a safety net for countries, communities, families and individuals, it is part of a comprehensive approach to getting people out of poverty, allowing them not only to benefit from growth, but also to productively take part in growth. Most importantly, it is affordable: with only 2 per cent of global GDP, all of the world’s poor could be provided with a basic level of social protection. This basic level of social protection would make the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) a tangible reality by enabling those living in poverty to access vital education and health services and the employment opportunities to create a sustainable future for themselves and their families.

With growing global inequality contributing to social unrest and an ever-widening gap between those who have and those who have not, we can no longer wait for the ‘next crisis’ to take action to ensure a basic level of social protection for all. There is a growing consensus from governments, civil society organisations (CSOs), labour movements and the people themselves, north and south, that a basic global standard of social protection for all will allow societies and individuals to prepare for future shocks, to achieve the MDGs to which the global community has committed itself, and to unlock the economic, social and productive potential of the many millions of people trapped in poverty.

Social movements have a vital tripartite role to play:

  • supporting the move to adopt a realistic basic global level of social protection as set out in the ILO’s Social Protection Floor Initiative;
  • organising and giving voice to workers and other vulnerable groups in their call for equity and decent livelihoods; and
  • in holding governments and the international community to account when they fail to implement the legislation, policies and funding to which they have committed.

The Global Network, coordinated by SOLIDAR and the International Federation of Workers’ Education Associations, enables workers’ movements and CSOs worldwide to demand their human, social and economic rights, including the right of everyone to a basic level of social protection, by:

  • empowering them to develop a strong collective voice and to take action to create policy, legislative, social and practical change;
  • providing evidence to support their demands; and
  • creating links to wider social and labour movements to support their calls for equity and change.

Chapter 2 (‘Regional Focus’) of this report will highlight examples of how Global Network members are supporting workers’ organisations, raising awareness of the basic right to social security and decent working conditions, advocating for legislative changes so that everybody can benefit from basic social protection and decent work, and monitoring the implementation of existing legislation to ensure that hard-won commitments to change move from paper to practice.

We will look at examples from the Global Network regions: The African Global Network region worked together with the South African Domestic Workers Union (SADSAWU) to conduct analysis and case studies on social protection for domestic workers to show the existing gaps between law and practice. The Asian Global Network region members Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) and Labour Education Foundation (LEF) in Pakistan will show how they are working to empower migrant domestic workers and home-based workers to get access to social protection schemes. The work of Global Network Latin America and Foro Salud in Peru will highlight the role of civil society organisations in monitoring the implementation of existing legislation and denouncing the cases of rights violation. And The Global Network Middle East members Democracy and Workers Rights Center (DWRC) in Palestine will look at the role that organisations like they play in supporting the people in the region in their continuing call for their rights, and to hold governments to their commitments to decent work and social protection for all.

Despite the unrelenting push from workers and social movements, without a global political and financial commitment and an agreed and coherent framework, a basic level of social protection and decent work will remain achievable to some rather than all.

The time to act is now. The ILO Social Protection Floor Initiative provides a coherent and workable framework that will allow the development of nationally owned and relevant social protection plans. The international community must politically, legislatively and financially commit to not only adopting but implementing the Floor. To work, such commitment must be matched by wider policy coherence for development. Of course, the goal to achieve social protection and decent work for all cannot and will not be brought about without the watchful eye and resonating collective voice of the workers and other vulnerable groups whose lives it sets out to change. The integral and ongoing role of civil society and workers’ movements must be supported and facilitated by the international community and national governments, and such organisations must continue to engage as genuine partners in the development, implementation and monitoring of national social protection policies.

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