Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Global Wage Report: Call for collective bargaining, minimum wages and social protection

The just published second ILO’s Global Wage Report 2010/2011, Wage policies in times of crisis, confirms that global wages have stagnated during the crisis. Excluding questionable figures for China and adjusting for inflation, global wage growth slowed from 2.2% in 2007 to only 0.8% in 2008 and 0.7% in 2009. While these world averages remained slightly positive, wages actually decreased in many countries. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has welcomed the Report. “Today’s report reinforces what unions around the world have been saying about the economic crisis and the policy responses that governments need to put in place,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. “Even workers who remained employed during the crisis experienced flat or falling pay.”

Over-reliance on exports and consumer borrowing for economic growth has proven to be unsustainable. To achieve a meaningful economic recovery, countries need to increase domestic demand based on rising wages and a more equal distribution of income. The ILO emphasizes three policy solutions in today’s report: inclusive collective bargaining, legislated minimum wages, and social protection programmes.

In addition to providing new data on wages during the crisis, the report also presents a longer-term analysis of low pay, defined as being below two-thirds of a country’s median wage. Since the late 1990s, the incidence of low pay has increased in two-thirds of the countries for which figures are available. However, the ILO found that low pay is much less prevalent in countries with higher levels of union membership. “Unions are part of the solution, in terms of ensuring that wages rise along with productivity and that these gains are shared fairly,” said Burrow.

* See also >>> Making the case for progressive universalism

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Foundation for climate deal laid in Cancún

Governments at the UN climate talks in Cancún, Mexico, managed to approve a series of tangible if modest steps that sets up a "global climate fund" to help poor nations, create a mechanism to share clean technologies, protect tropical forests and help the poor adapt to impacts ranging from storms to rising sea levels, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The UN climate talks are off the life-support machine, following a last-minute agreement that gives the Kyoto Protocol a lifeline, says international agency Oxfam.

The deal’s Climate Fund will be designed by a committee with a strong voice for developing countries, which should ensure that life-saving finance will be delivered to those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The Climate Fund will be a major channel for adaptation finance, helping to plug the gap in adaptation funding, so that vulnerable communities have the resources they urgently need. Meanwhile, the emissions cuts pledged after Copenhagen have been set as a minimum, with an expectation to raise them according to the demands of climate science.

Oxfam International’s Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs said: “Negotiators have resuscitated the UN talks and put them on a road to recovery. This deal shows the UN negotiations can deliver.” But many of the most difficult issues remain. According to Oxfam, we will not be able to offer a safe future for vulnerable women, men and children unless governments realize that we swim together or sink together. Our challenge is to elevate our vision and commit to the deep emissions cuts that are urgently needed.

“The progress in Cancún puts talks back on track and revives hopes that a wider, legally binding treaty that sets concrete and credible targets to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions is possible in the future,” also says Stewart Maginnis, IUCN’s Director of Environment and Development. "Under Mexico’s strong leadership and guidance, governments in Cancun have ensured that confidence in the UNFCCC process is being rebuilt, which brings us a step closer to that final deal.”

Adaptation, finance and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) were some of the key issues the 194-nation talks moved forward on. According to IUCN, today’s deal is a move in the right direction, but in the end, only an equitable, comprehensive and legally binding agreement will bring the much needed international commitment to manage the climate crisis.

The inclusion of REDD as part of the Cancún deal is a key step towards resolving the issue of climate change, says IUCN. Other NGOs have strongly opposed it. However, “reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while at the same time conserving forest natural resources on which millions of vulnerable people depend is a win-win solution for people and nature,” says Maginnis. “It has been one of the most promising developments in the negotiations so far, and now this further push by governments makes REDD an integral part of the climate deal.” IUCN welcomes the recognition of women within the deal struck on REDD. Women make up 70% of the world’s poor and provide up to 90% of the food in forest-dependent communities. They depend on forest resources for gathering fuelwood, forest fruits, vegetables and medicines.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Civil society and trade unions on EU-India Free Trade Agreement

As the EU-India Summit meets in Brussels today, civil society organisations and trade unions have reiterated their views on a draft free trade agreement. A broad civil society alliance called on the European Commission and the Indian Government to immediately halt the ongoing free trade negotiations between India and the EU. More than 240 concerned civil society groups signed an open letter, in which they warned that the talks would damage the livelihoods of millions of people in both India and Europe, exacerbating poverty and undermining economic and social development.

The proposed agreement would undermine people’s rights to food, to health and to gender just and social development. “The EU persistently puts pressure on India to open up its market to European dairy and meat products, while the EU continues to export these products at prices far below production costs with the help of subsidies”, said Armin Paasch, trade expert of the German Catholic Bishops’ Organisation for Development Misereor. “Around 90 million people are working in the dairy sector in India, most of them being small scale farmers or herders and 70 percent being women. Their livelihoods would be severely threatened if subsidized EU exports are permitted to flood the Indian market”, said Paasch.

Tightened intellectual property rights (IPR) would limit India’s ability to provide affordable medicines for the treatment of HIV-AIDS, malaria and cancer, not only for Indian patients but worldwide. “It is outrageous for Europe to undermine the Indian drug industry’s capacity to provide affordable and safe medicine to the poor. Despite massive protests the EU continues to insist on data exclusivity and other provisions, which would hinder timely production and delivery of generics”, said Rebecca Varghese Buchholz, trade policy advisor at Traidcraft, UK. “This example illustrates the corporate capture of the negotiation agenda: public health objectives are pushed aside in the interest of pharmacy industry profits.”

Representatives from Indian and European civil society groups claim that the behind-closed-door negotiations must be made more transparent – and be accountable to wider interests in society. “The EU-India summit is another example of the lack of transparency and undemocratic nature of the negotiations. Neither civil society groups nor Members of the European Parliament are allowed to attend the annual summit of political leaders from either region. At the same time, the 11th EU-India business summit will be held bringing together the European and Indian high level business and political representatives to network and shape a joint agenda,” explained Ska Keller, Member of the European Parliament. “This is unacceptable; the broad resistance against the FTA shows that people on both sides are no longer willing to leave the decision-making on their future in the hands of the business and political elite.”

The EU-India summit coincides with the official international human rights day. As civil society, “we believe that December 10 presents a timely opportunity to halt free trade talks until coherence of all provisions with human and women rights obligations can be guaranteed”, urged Barbara Specht, advocacy officer of the gender network WIDE. “Instead of profit interests the negotiations should be guided by gender and social justice and sustainable development objectives.”

“As we have said since talks started in 2007, any agreement must contain a comprehensive and effective chapter on sustainable development entailing the commitment of both parties to the attainment of decent work, including respect for fundamental workers’ rights,” insisted ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. “A social chapter is essential so that an agreement could lead to growth, development and the creation of decent and productive employment,” stated ETUC General Secretary John Monks. “And trade unions must have rights and mechanisms to be able to raise issues under the procedures of the agreement.”

“The impact on the textiles sector stands to be particularly great unless effective measures to protect workers’ rights,” said ITGLWF General Secretary Patrick Itschert. “Our Indian and European affiliates are united in insisting on a strong social chapter.” Trade unions are also concerned at proposals to include provisions on the temporary cross-border movement of workers in the agreement – unions have always stated that trade agreements should not contain provisions to regulate migration. Should any such articles nonetheless be included, these must provide for full respect for national labour law and existing collective agreements in order to ensure that migrant workers receive employment conditions no less favourable than those of nationals.