Reinvigorating labour market institutions for inclusive growth
To build a sustainable and resilient economy, the need to organise and regulate work in ways that guarantee rights and promote well-being and social justice has been emphasised.
With the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic in the world of work, stakeholders in the labour sector have highlighted the need to chart a way to build an inclusive and sustainable recovery to address present and future obstacles.
The Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Guy Ryder, at the just-concluded International Labour and Employment Relations Association (ILERA) world congress, stressed that with the challenges in the world of work, the need for institutions to prepare themselves for the fast-changing digital economy and its employment models was critical.
He queried: “How can we reinvent labour market institutions to support the transition to a carbon-neutral economy?
“How should we adapt institutions and regulations so that they could protect all workers – including migrants and those in the informal economy? And how can we reinvigorate systems of collective representation, voice and governance, so that they meet the challenges of our time?”
To address these, he called on the need for institutions to organise and regulate work in ways that guarantee rights, fairness and that promote well-being and social justice.
He urged governments, employers’ and workers’ organisations to adapt to shape a better, post-pandemic future.
Ryder, who described the impact as ‘cataclysmic’, estimated that the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on the world of work was four times more severe than that posed by the financial crisis of 2008 to 2009.
According to him, 8.8 per cent of total working hours were lost in 2020 – the equivalent of the hours worked in one year by 255 million full-time workers, working 48 hours a week.
He stated that about $3.7 trillion labour income was wiped off, equivalent to 4.4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
With a large number of people living in extreme working conditions, he stressed that many workers faced a choice, which was hard to imagine, such as “stay home with your family and go hungry, or take an existential risk to put food on the table, and go out to work.”
Among other challenges, the ILO boss expressed worry over the deep and structural inequalities in the world of work, stating that inequalities had already grown to alarming levels in the labour markets.
This, he said, had led to increase in number of people excluded from formal labour markets; a shortage of decent job opportunities in many countries and the outsourcing and fracturing of traditional work structures and relationships.
He said it has also affected a certain erosion of the collective institutions that provide workers and employers alike with a voice, and support balance in labour relations.
He said: “The general decline in trade union membership has been widely reported. But there is more to the issue than that. The ILO estimates that, in 46 countries for which we have data, the coverage of workers by collective agreements has also declined by an average of eight per cent in the last five years. Taken together, this means that the voices of many workers are not being heard. This has consequences not just for the world of work but for democracy more broadly.”
He said that inequalities in today’s world have hardened into structural injustices, where much of this could be traced back to how industrial relations were conducted.
To address the inequalities crisis, he said: “We must build on some of the policy experiments that have successfully increased transfers to poor families and supported the earnings of minimum-wage workers. We must learn from the innovative approaches to social protection. And we must reinvigorate our labour market institutions so they can support a human-centred recovery.”
Controller, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Lagos State, Nnamdi Enuah, said now was not the time for hostile relations, but effective labour relations among social partners.
Noting that hostility won’t solve the problem, he urged employers and labour unions to apply the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for dialogue for workers to stay in their jobs. He called for more cooperation with the government, which is doing everything possible to create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive.
According to him, it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war. “There’s a need for labour movement and employers to show solidarity to surmount challenges as they affect workers and the citizenry. It is time for robust dialogue, and not time for picketing, strikes or lockouts. It is time for workers to support their management through solidarity to enable jobs to continue while workers also stay in their jobs. It should be a time for mutual support and engagement.”
Similarly, a lawyer and labour expert, Paul Omoijiade, who maintained that the effectiveness of trade unions had been on a downward trend lately, urged unions to redouble their efforts and safeguard the interests of workers and also expand membership.
He urged employers and workers to recognise their institutional identities.
Director-General, Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Dr. Timothy Olawale, urged the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congres (TUC) to work with employers to address issues that affect them in the world of work.