Trade union’s preliminary reaction to the HLP report on the post-2015 development agenda - Some fresh paint, but the same busted engine?

The High Level Panel of Eminent Persons that was tasked by UN Secretary General, Ban-Ki Moon released its report of recommendations at the end of May, for consideration by UN Member States as they develop a successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs MDGs The Millennium Development Goals are eight international development goals that were officially establishing following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000. All 193 United Nations member states have agreed to achieve these goals by 2015. The ITUC advocates for the inclusion of Decent Work and Social Protection in the new development framework. ). The report comes after nearly a year of deliberations among the 27-Member panel and is stated to incorporate inputs received in consultations and outreach activities with representatives from Civil Society, the Private Sector and Parliamentarians.

Placing jobs and employment related issues at the centre of the HLP HLP The 27 members of the High Level Panel advise on the global development framework beyond 2015. The Panel is co-chaired by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK, and it includes leaders from civil society, private sector and government. The Panel will submit its report containing recommendations on possible components of a post-2015 UN development agenda to the Secretary General in May 2013. ’s report is a breakthrough for UN efforts and the report and recommendations delivered were more explicit and concrete than we might have expected. The report lays out a five point agenda to (i) Leave no one behind, (ii) Put sustainable development at the core, (iii) Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth, (iv) Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all, (v) Forge a new global partnership. The five point agenda is accompanied by twelve proposed goals which aim to achieve these headline objectives.

While there are positive elements including the report’s references to Human Rights and governance, illicit financial flows, accountability of governments and the private sector, the ITUC finds that its recommendations are mostly superficial and distract readers from the report’s true bottom line: “free markets steer development”. The report utterly fails to address the systemic causes of the multiple crisis humanity is facing, the unequal power relations in the world which have given way to increased inequalities, and the lack of meaningful development for all.

Instead, the report offers a status quo approach, very much rooted in the private sector led economic growth model. The influence of business interests in the Panel’s report, in contrast to the interests of people, is unsettling, as is its recurrent articulation of people and public goods as mere factors of economic production.
As has been noted by other commentators the ambitious goal to end absolute poverty by 2030, or ensure everyone lives above USD 1.25, is actually not that ambitious at all. It dates from 1973, and read in that perspective the world is already on track to meet this objective. Indeed, even the working poor, whether in Bangladeshi factories or on the fields of agro-industry, survive on USD 1.25 but do not enjoy decent livelihoods, security or dignity. As a result, the ITUC finds that the objective is devoid of any real ambition and means the Panel’s recommendations undermine the Decent Work Agenda.

Good jobs are not Decent Work

For the trade union movement the greatest flaw of the report is the deliberate decision to omit the Decent Work Agenda from the recommendations on employment. While at first acknowledging that all countries will want to achieve Decent Work, including its 4 different dimensions, the Panel then says that it is too lofty an ambition for developing countries. The report states: “The ILO’s concept of “decent work” recognizes and respects the rights of workers, ensures adequate social protection and social dialogue, and sets a high standard toward which every country should strive. However, it has become clear that there can be middle ground for some developing countries, where “good jobs” – those which are secure and fairly paid – are a significant step towards inclusive and sustainable economic development.”

This recommendation turns a blind eye to exploitation and discrimination. The Panel has fallen victim to some of the erroneous myths about Decent Work and shortcuts the need for Decent Work by offering instead the World Bank’s concept of ‘Good Jobs’. The notion of ‘Good Jobs’ is an unmistakable regression from the Decent Work concept which misses the rights based foundation, the social dialogue dimension and the social protection condition as a sine qua non. By promoting the concept of Good Jobs vaguely defined as secure and fairly paid work (would any salary above 1.25 USD a day be fair?) the report fails to recognize the centrality of decent work to address the current unsustainable levels of inequality.

Over the last decades, the ultra flexibilisation of labour markets combined with wages stuck at low levels (in many cases far below productivity levels) produced a surge in the number of working poor, boosted the informalisation of the economy and led to growing income inequality. Normative action is indispensable to ensure that the development concept of decent work is realized and that workers are fairly treated and remunerated. Further, several international institutions including the OECD, the ILO and others have recognized the role of labour market institutions in tackling income inequalities. Given the universal recognition of the concept of Decent Work, the Panel’s decision to introduce an alternative, confusing and regressive concept is unacceptable. There should be no “middle ground” when it comes to generating productive employment, ensuring worker’s rights, creating democratic spaces for dialogue and providing adequate universal social protection. Decent work, in all of its dimensions is the solid basis to develop a more socially inclusive and economically dynamic development model and ultimately help to win the fight against poverty.

The ITUC regrets that the report does not make any reference to social dialogue and tripartism, though the pillars of economic democracy and of justice at work. While the report strongly insists on the importance of an enabling environment for business to flourish, it fails to recognize the importance of protecting workers’ rights. This unbalanced and paternalistic approach might is not the best way to promote social pacts and alliances at the national level which are desperately needed to lift our countries out of the crisis.

Finally, the Report fails to address the issue of care work when talking about employment. It should recommend that women’s unpaid work be accounted for, reduced and redistributed between men and women.

Social Protection for some but not for all

The High Level Panel missed the target literally and figuratively when it comes to Social Protection. While the Panel “would like” to see all people covered by Social Protection Systems, they suggest such an aspiration is utopian and risks undermining the quality of such systems. While the latter may hold some truth, the Panels’ fear to set the bar too high throughout the report, is unfortunate in terms of proposing access to social protection for all.

Social protection is acknowledged internationally as a human right. Likewise, providing universal access to basic services, and especially social security is an obligation of country governments, NOT a utopian fantasy. Social Protection Floors are a means to providing access for all and financing Social Protection Floors is well within the realm of possibility with ample evidence suggesting that Social Protection Floors are affordable and feasible. Joint research conducted by the IMF and ILO demonstrates the economic feasibility of national social protection schemes and their effectiveness in addressing inequality, social resilience and stimulating economic reliance. There have also been calls for an international mechanism (creation of a global fund) to finance the establishment of social protection floors, in the poorest countries, and demonstrate solidarity.

The ITUC finds the Panel’s language on Social Protection Systems (what little there is) to be unclear and potentially contentious, especially as the report appears to equate Social Protection simply with social assistance programs. The suggested Target to cover, some, yet to be determined – percentage of the poor and vulnerable with social protection systems can be useful but only if it is ambitious. We would like to see this complemented by a target that aims to assess the strength of connection between employment and social protection. Ensuring that the millions of workers informally employed have access to social protection is a matter of urgency which can only be addressed through the creation of comprehensive social protection systems, with the implementation of ILO Recommendation 202.

Good governance and effective institutions without democratic ownership?
Stable and peaceful societies without social dialogue?

Governance, as the means by which power relations are harnessed in favour of respect for human rights and sustainable development, was potentially one of the most important chapters of the report. However, the HLP HLP The 27 members of the High Level Panel advise on the global development framework beyond 2015. The Panel is co-chaired by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK, and it includes leaders from civil society, private sector and government. The Panel will submit its report containing recommendations on possible components of a post-2015 UN development agenda to the Secretary General in May 2013. failed to address some of the most important aspects of good governance. While references to Human Rights and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights are welcome, the HLP HLP The 27 members of the High Level Panel advise on the global development framework beyond 2015. The Panel is co-chaired by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK, and it includes leaders from civil society, private sector and government. The Panel will submit its report containing recommendations on possible components of a post-2015 UN development agenda to the Secretary General in May 2013. fails to understand the prevailing forces which dictate the world’s dynamics of power. In this respect the HLP misses an opportunity to address directly the issues related to financial and economic power versus people’s rights (including the undercutting of democratic parliamentary systems), the criminalization of social participation and action and the increased crackdown on trade unions and civil society organizations’ rights and their democratic space.

The report rightly pinpoints as one of the areas of concern the lack of social justice and suggests that we “begin to fashion stronger institutions for conflict resolution and mediation…” However, it fails to offer any proposed targets on this commendable objective. For the trade union movement it misses the opportunity to highlight the role of social dialogue as one of the vectors of effective institutions and the role of social partners as key actors to ensure social peace while also addressing social and economic stress and tensions.

In the end we have some nice window dressing without the appropriate contextualizing and without strong recommendations to overcome the governance challenges which confront people all across the world, not only in the developing countries.

The HLP consultation process and the hidden democratic deficit.

The HLP and the supporting institutions have made it a point to praise the vast consultation processes that have taken place. Certainly, there has been an important mobilization of citizens around the globe who were invited to what was billed as an inclusive consultation process.

Unfortunately, however, here was never at any stage a clear concept on how these “consultations” would materialize into the decision-making and recommendations of the HLP, let alone into the design of a future framework. The process has stimulated the reflection of many groups and communities around the world, which may be an accomplishment in itself. However, in the late stages of the process it became quite evident that the report would be developed unilaterally and without transparency, by an “invisible hand”.

The interests of social movements and of civil society, often referred to as the vibrant conscience of our nations, cannot be well reflected, nor defended by a High Level Panel, where big business was said to represent non-state actors.

The UN needs to demonstrate and reclaim its legitimacy, not simply as the only institution to boast all inclusive state membership, but, more importantly, to the citizens of the nations that the UN membership represents. A truly participatory and rights based approach is the best way p to deliver legitimate, effective, global sustainable development.

Article by Matt Simonds, ITUC/TUAC

- Read the Stakeholder Responses to the HLP Report

- Read the article of Jan Dereymaeker (ITUC/TUDCN) on the report : HLP report on the Post-2015 Development Framework - Business … as usual