Unions call for New Social Contract with SDG 8 at its core at UN Regional Fora on Sustainable Development

The UN Regional Fora on Sustainable Development are important regional policy making spaces, which mark a first step in the lead up to the High-level Political Forum that will be held in New York in the month of July.

This year’s fora took place during the month of March 2021 and were organised by each of the UN Regional Commissions. Trade unions engaged actively in each of these fora and in the different discussions around them. In this respect, the TUDCN organised for its members a series of preparatory sessions with UN representatives at national and regional level.

In their interventions, unions highlighted the importance of Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG 8) for achieving all the SDGs and the urgent need to establish a New Social Contract for recovery from the Covid-19 crisis and resilience against future crises. Throughout these spaces, trade unions worked closely with other civil society organisations within the CSO regional coordination mechanisms and provided key inputs to contribute to joint declarations.

Held in the context of the growing challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic is posing to global development, the fora acknowledged that the coronavirus crisis will further compromise the attainment of the SDGs, for which most countries were already off-track. They also understood that greater efforts will be required to accelerate and expand the scale and speed of implementation within the narrow window of the Decade of Action. And reiterated calls for considering COVID-19 vaccines as global public goods, including establishing universal and equal access to secure, effective and affordable diagnostics, treatments and quality vaccines.

The issue of financing for development was especially prominent. Most developing countries around the world are facing great challenges to mobilise resources to respond to the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic. Thus, an emphasis was put on specific policies that would contribute to building more resilient economies and societies for a shared prosperity to achieve the SDGs.

Africa’s Regional Forum
The African Regional Forum tackled critical issues for the implementation of the 2030 and 2063 Agendas. Trade unions made concrete demands to support small- and medium-sized enterprises, protect jobs and incomes, protect workers in the workplace, improve working conditions, rely on social dialogue for solutions, and stimulate the economy and employment.

Although many pertinent issues were discussed, the Forum fell short in proposing concrete solutions to address the region’s critical challenges in the face of unprecedented job and livelihood losses. The African governments must expand their social protection mechanisms to protect the most vulnerable and strengthen the response capacity to the pandemic. In most African countries, responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed the secrecy and opacity of public institutions and their decision-making and accountability processes. Civic space has continued to shrink across the region, along with worsening trends regarding freedom of association and assembly, labour rights, civil rights and liberties, and freedom of expression. Most governments in Africa have excluded social partners in crafting responsive policies to the COVID-19 crisis. On top of suffering huge job losses, most workers also face serious violations of trade union rights.

Latin America and the Caribbean’s Regional Forum
The Latin American and Caribbean Forum looked into the state of the implementation of the SDGs in a context of growing inequalities.

Trade unions noted that the combination of the pandemic and the neoliberal policies in place has resulted in the worst economic, social and productive crisis in the region over the last 120 years. They deplored that governments in the region have moved away from the achievement of the SDGs and that they are not confronting the current situation through greater levels of dialogue. They emphasised the need for a New Social Contract to bring forward a new productive and development model that guarantees the realisation of human rights and accelerates the fulfilment of the 2030 Agenda.

The inter-governmentally agreed conclusions and recommendations that ensued from the Forum clearly reflected unions’ demands about the urgency of promoting decent work for all, reducing informality and labour vulnerability, increasing investments in social services, and promoting strong social protection policies.

Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development
The statement of trade unions to the Forum pointed to the huge decent work deficits that characterise the region and which have become more pronounced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They also denounced the alarming repression that trade unions are suffering in many countries across the region. In light of this situation, unions called for addressing these serious deficits urgently to achieve the 2030 Agenda and a just recovery from the crisis. In addition, they provided concrete recommendations to promote more gender equality in the world of work, ensure Just Transitions when applying climate policies and implement a New Social Contract for recovery and resilience.

Trade unions welcomed the many important elements that were raised to realise decent work in the specific discussions on SDG 8 during the Forum. These were complemented with important points on the need to promote decent work together with social protection and social dialogue, emphasised in discussions on SDG 10. However, unions also noted that similar recommendations were made in past regional fora and stressed that greater endeavours must be made for full implementation of the recommendations.

Europe Regional Forum
The UN Economic Commission for Europe shared its SDG progress report and its proposal to improve national capacity to measure this progress.

Trade unions participated in and contributed to the Forum as part of the platform of CSOs. In particular, unions stressed the need for a more sustainable economic model based on a New Social Contract with Just Transition, human rights and social justice at its core. Unions also underlined that resilience and recovery plans must not be a return to austerity and business as usual.



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