In 2007, the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) declared that February 20th will be celebrated annually as the World Day of Social Justice. Supported by the International Labour Organization (ILO), countries around the world use this day to focus on the need to end poverty, exclusion, gender equality, unemployment, and to promote human rights and social protections for all.
The labour movement has an expression that describe the goals of unions toward social justice; “What we want for ourselves, we want for all.” In many ways the goals of the day are what the labour movement has stood for since its earliest years. Unions work to ensure that workplaces respect workers rights, that we are treated with fairness, and through negotiated wages and benefits we reduce those living in poverty. While day to day is the struggle of the union locals, it is when we work together that we try to improve the lives of non-union members in Canada and throughout the world.
2021 Theme: A Call for Social Justice in the Digital Economy
The pandemic has placed many workers incomes in jeopardy while the uber rich accumulate even greater fortunes. Now is a time to speak out and demand that the goals of the day are respected by governments and businesses in response to the pandemic and beyond.
The shift in the economy and the affect on workplaces during the pandemic has created a rapid change in the digital economy. While allowing many workers the flexibility to work remotely, many others are left exposed and unemployed. The ILO points out that the growing digital divide has laid bare and exacerbated the gap between the developed and developing nations, particularly in terms of the availability, affordability, and access to the internet thereby deepening already existing inequalities.
Some of the richest companies are exploiting the digital economy to reduce income and benefits, remove workers from labour law protection, and create a part-time mobile workforce. Daily we learn that government COVID-19 response programmes are used to enrich themselves rather than support working families. For traditional businesses, challenges include unfair competition from large organizations using platforms unavailable to smaller community-based ones. Most of the new digital businesses are able to avoid taxation and other obligations that support the betterment of the wider society transferring that burden onto the backs of workers.
The regulatory responses from all countries needs to address the issues related to working conditions in the digital economy. There is a need for international policy, dialogue and coordination since digital labour platforms operate across nations and governments. Often the companies have the power to pit themselves against each other rather than work together. Policy, certainty and the enforcement of universal labour standards would be a step to social justice for all in 2021.
- Employment growth since 2008 has averaged only 0.1% annually, compared with 0.9% between 2000 and 2007.
- Over 60 per cent of all workers lack any kind of employment contract.
- Fewer than 45 per cent of wage and salaried workers are employed on a full-time, permanent basis, and even that share is declining.
- By 2019, more than 212 million people were out of work, up from 201 million in previous years.
- 600 million new jobs need to be created by 2030, just to keep pace with the growth of the working age population.