There are solutions that could eradicate poverty, vulnerability and inequality, but they require a strong and organised civil society
Just ahead of the World Day for Decent Work, which took place worldwide on October 7, The Global Network grouping of labour movement organisations launched a report in the European Parliament, in Brussels. It shows that social protection can hold solutions to eradicate poverty, vulnerability and inequality - but to become a reality it requires a strong and organised civil society.
The report Realising decent work and social protection for all: how civil society organisations are creating change
provides a global overview of the benefits of social protection. It illustrates why investing in social protection is both a universal right and affordable and defends all workers in in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Despite some progress in recent decades, some 1.4 billion people are still living on less than $1.25 a day and around 1.7 billion people experience poverty - with deprivations in health, economic opportunities and living standards. At the same time, around 75 per cent of people worldwide do not have access to adequate social security.
The International Labour Organisation notes that the social consequences of economic crises have been most severe in countries where social protection systems were weakest. A basic level of social protection enhances national crisis preparedness and responsiveness by ensuring that individuals are better able to deal with shocks; and governments can respond quickly by scaling up existing measures. In addition, it can act as a social and economic stabiliser that will prevent people from falling into poverty.
In alleviating poverty and providing the economic security necessary for people to adapt to changing economic, environmental, political and social circumstances, social protection also provides a real possibility of achieving many of the millennium development goals. For example, MDG1 – to eradicate extreme poverty. Pensions reduce poverty among the elderly and those with disabilities, welfare benefits reduce transient poverty among the unemployed and fee waivers for health and education allow families to access services without impoverishing themselves. Our report gives examples of successful social protection campaigns in countries around the world. For example, in Pakistan, the Labour Education Foundation is empowering home-based women workers to come together and find a collective voice and bargaining power - through the establishment of a national platform to call for their rights.
Razia, a home-based worker from the outskirts of Lahore, works between 12-16 hours a day to earn between just €16-20 per month. She has had ongoing health issues resulting from her work and has suffered numerous burns from working with hot wax. Razia was unaware that she had any recourse to either legal protection or social protection measures. The LEF overcame this obstacle by helping women like Razia to form cooperatives that gave home-based workers the opportunity to meet and discuss their issues together.
Formal commitment at international, regional and national level to make a basic level of social protection a reality has to be matched by a sound political will to raise the necessary technical and financial resources to make the floor a reality for all. At the same time, it requires strong and organised civil society and representative workers organisations to raise awareness among workers about their right to social security - so they can claim them and monitor the correct implementation of existing laws.Conny Reuter is secretary general of SOLIDAR - a European network of 56 social justice non-governmental organisations, which coordinate the Global Network