Tackling poverty through decent work
There’s an old saying about what makes charity aimed at developing countries effective. ‘Give a man a fish and you keep him alive for a day. Teach him how to fish and you keep him alive for years to come.’ But isn’t this a pretty poor ambition?
Fishing is a hard, often dangerous job. In developing countries, it is often subsistence work – keeping people from starving, but little more. Teaching people to fish is not enough.
What they need is exactly the same we do in this country. A decent fulfilling job, with reasonable time off and a chance to retire with a pension.
Today (Tuesday 7 October) is World Day for Decent Work. Across the globe, millions of trade unionists will be marking the day though concerts, conferences and demonstrations. More than 350 events are planned in more than 100 countries.
Decent work means good jobs at good wages – skilled, safe jobs that give people a chance to use and develop their human potential. It means a safety net of public services like schools, hospitals and clean water, and adequate pensions and benefits.
And it means rights for workers – freedom from forced labour, child labour and discrimination – and giving them a voice at work through the right join a union and bargain collectively.
These are not impossible objectives. If the US Government can deploy $700 billion to bail out Wall Street, then we can afford decency for the poorest and most vulnerable.
And the campaign for decent work is not just for developing countries. The increase in the National Minimum Wage (NMW) last week, which benefitted one million workers, reminds us of the extent of low pay in the UK.
Earlier this year the TUC’s Commission on Vulnerable Employment found that two million workers in Britain have the opposite of a decent job – subject not just to low pay, but extreme insecurity and shocking levels of exploitation. That is why our campaign for decent work looks not just for further increases in the NMW but new protection and better enforcement for vulnerable workers such temporary agency workers, migrant domestic workers, and the so-called self-employed builders.
As the world economy heads for stormier waters than were foreseen when we all pledged to Make Poverty History three years ago, we need a bail-out for the poor and vulnerable, not those who brought us the current crisis.