Goal 8 provides Asia and the Pacific with means to address severe decent work deficit

In its recently adopted Action Programme 2019-2023, the International Trade Union Confederation in Asia and the Pacific (ITUC AP) identifies the Sustainable Development Goals, in general, and SDG 8, in particular, as an opportunity to broaden their work towards delivering to the region a New Social Contract that bears decent work at its heart.

Asia and the Pacific is a region that suffers from severe decent work deficit and where more than half of the world’s population is residing. The ITUC’s Global Rights Index 2019 ranks the region as the second worst region in the world for workers’ rights. Most workers in the region suffer from recurrent aggressions, exploitation and poor working conditions that impact beyond their workspace. For instance, work-related mortality is six times higher in Asia than in the other regions of the world, i.e. 65% of the world’s work-related mortality. Such figures hide a crude reality of devastated families and impacted communities.

But there also are opportunities ahead. The ITUC AP has been much aware of the immense challenge that delivering a New Social Contract that bears decent work at its heart implies. Nonetheless, the organisation is also strongly committed to overcome this challenge. For this, in its recently adopted Action Programme 2019-2023 at the 4th ITUC-AP Regional Conference in October 2019 in Tokyo, Japan, the ITUC AP has identified the Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as one important avenue to pressure delivery on decent work, notably through actions that contribute to the realisation of Goal 8 on promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

SDGs and Goal 8

The approval of the SDGs by the UN General Assembly in 2015 brought about a global political commitment to shift away from the ‘business-as-usual’ mind-set that has allowed corporate greed to lead the world to the verge of social and environmental collapse. Moreover, it lifted the 17 SDGs to the level of international commitments governments cannot just frown away. The ITUC AP has grasped the historical opportunity that the SDGs bring about, notably on Goal 8 because, as it reads in its Action Programme: ‘This is the first time that an international development instrument specifically mentions decent work as one of its goals.’

Goal 8 is also deeply connected to the International Labour Organisation’s Decent Work Agenda, which states that decent work has four dimensions: fundamental workers’ rights, employment, social protection and social dialogue. These dimensions are interrelated, and it is an absolute necessity to address them simultaneously. Overlooking any of them harms progression in the others. The current extreme prioritisation of the economic dimension demonstrates this. The economic dimension has been superposed the other three for so long that it has led to damaging the planet to the point of seriously threatening all life on earth, and to bringing communities to levels of poverty that are beyond the point of no-return in the current economic framework. Moreover, it has trapped global economy into a vicious circle of recurrent crisis and low job creation.

ITUC AP take on Goal 8

In order to deliver on SDG 8, the ITUC AP stresses that countries must stop looking at decent-work as a by-product of economic policies. Instead, decent work must be at the heart of governments’ economic policies. Governments must consider creating decent work as a strategy on its own, within the country’s economic growth strategy. Moreover, creating decent jobs must also have a central place alongside fiscal and monetary policy concerns. Basically, implementing Goal 8 at national level must imply an approach that goes beyond employment policies to include all four dimensions of decent work, including strong institutions for universal social protection and social dialogue based on full respect of fundamental principles and rights at work.

To ensure that decent work’s four dimensions are truly embedded in national development policies and SDG implementation policies, unions have to be involved in the national SDG implementation policies and preparation of the National Voluntary Reviews. In addition, unions should act as watchdogs and monitor the national SDG implementation in general and goal 8 in particular, as unions in India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, and Nepalhave done in previous years.

The ITUC-AP, together with the ITUC, will continue its work on the campaign, #TimeFor8 - the Clock is Ticking for a New Social Contract in Asia and the Pacific.



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Photo: Workers in Bangladesh fight for the freedom of association on May Day 2016. Credit: Solidarity Center.