Why European Year for Development is a Trade Union Issue

By David Joyce, Congress Equality Officer of the ICTU (Ireland)

President Michael D Higgins was guest of honour at the Irish launch of the European Year for Development (EYD) in Dublin Castle, which was an appropriate way to mark this potentially critical year – for trade unions and wider society alike.
Over the course of 2015 two United Nations summits will effectively define the parameters for future international policy making:

• In September, the UN will agree new goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – a new ‘Sustainable Development Framework’ – to tackle poverty, inequality and environmental destruction,

• In December, the Climate Change Summit in Paris will set new climate action targets, to replace the Kyoto Protocol Kyoto Protocol The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement adopted in 1997 and linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It sets binding obligations on industrialised countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. .

The trade union movement has been actively engaged in these processes, demanding goals on Full & Productive Employment and Decent Work for all, along with the inclusion of Universal Social Protection - income security, access to public goods and services- in any post 2015 development framework.

It is our belief that all people must have access to decent work in a healthy environment, while ensuring opportunity for future generations. This means setting targets that assess job creation, social protection, social dialogue and – critically - workers’ rights. Teachers unions have also been engaged in a dialogue on the role of the EU in supporting sustainable development goals for education.

On the issue of climate change, we want the governments to agree on action that gives us a fighting chance of limiting global temperature rise to two degrees or less. The goal is to secure an ambitious framework that will protect the lives and livelihoods of working people, ensure universal access to breakthrough technologies and guarantee just transition measures for all.

Globally, unions have expressed deep concerns on the lack of ambition shown by negotiators.

Despite repeated highlighting of the need to include a message for the world’s workers on the centrality of decent work, these demands have - so far - been ignored.

Workers are among those most affected by climate change impacts. However, they also hold the key to sustainably transforming the current production model which is at the root of man-induced climate change.

Whether from the north or the south, unions are integrating the struggle against climate change into their policies and mobilisation strategies.

Progress on all of these would help to tackle growing inequality, with Oxfam recently revealing that the combined wealth of the richest one percent will overtake that of the other 99 percent of the population next year.

Meanwhile the ILO has warned of rising unemployment over the next five years, as a result of growing inequality.

The European Year of Development has got off to an inauspicious start at European level, with the European Commission awarding CONCORD (the European NGO confederation for relief and development) with a grant to organise activities in Europe around the EYD.

This grant implies that Concord will become the ‘central hub’ for coordination of initiatives, including a sub-grant modality to organisations willing to join the alliance.
CONCORD presented trade unions as being part of this alliance but, despite writing to the EC some months ago, we were neither consulted nor informed before the grant was awarded.

As a result, unions have decided not to participate in this initiative as it undermines our achievements as development actors in our own right. (You can view a short video on the work of the Trade Union Development Cooperation Network here).

But that does not preclude us from organising initiatives at European and national level related to the EYD. The year in Ireland is being coordinated by Dochas (the Irish Association of Non-Governmental Development Organisations) and the Congress Global Solidarity Committee has already been talking with them with a view to ensuring that a trade union voice is part of EYD activities here in Ireland.

The need for such a voice is made clear by the exclusion of our demands for goals on decent work and social protection in the December EU Council conclusions on a transformative post-2015 agenda.

We are deeply disappointed that the promotion of decent work (and its four pillars), as a fundamental component of sustainable development, has been overlooked in the conclusions. The notion of ‘decent jobs’ quoted in the document is not sufficient to reflect the rights-based approach of the decent work agenda, including the ILO standards and conventions on collective bargaining and social dialogue.

Irish MEPs have also outlined their vision for the EYD in a pamphlet published by the European Parliament. While unemployment, cheap production, low wages, fairer trade and inequality are all referenced, Decent Work and Social Protection are conspicuous by their absence. We will be contacting MEPs to draw their attention to the trade union agenda.

So as we kick off the European Year of Development here in Ireland, why not ensure your union is aware and actively engaged in the debates? Get articles published in union magazines, organise events at conferences, actively participate in social media debate (Twitter hashtags for the year include: #NewYearNewWorld or #EYD2015)

As Dochas state in their EYD literature: “Now is your chance to inspire others. Let them know that you are not content to sit and wait, but that you are doing your bit to make this a better world!”