The Flaw In The ILO’s Thinking About Work

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That lots of people out there are living pretty scummy lives in poverty and destitution is true. That we’d very much prefer that the number of people having to do so is zero is also true.

We could even go on to point out that the past few decades have vastly, hugely, reduced the number who have to and we’ve collectively done that by extending free market capitalism further around the world – that neoliberal globalisation.

We have been doing much better, the direction of travel is as we wish:

And yet there’s still a problem with the way people think about this. For example, from the International Labor Organisation:

Third, even when people have a job, there remain
significant deficiencies in work quality. Decent work
concerns the adequacy of wages or self-employment
earnings, the right to job security and a safe and
healthy workplace, access to social protection, the
opportunity to voice one’s views and concerns through
a trade union, employers’ organization or other
representative body, and other fundamental rights
such as non-discrimination. Decent work deficits are
especially pronounced in the informal economy, which
registers the highest rates of in-work poverty and high
shares of people who are own-account self-employed
or contributing family workers who lack adequate
protection.

Sure, the really shitty stuff is all over in the informal sector. So, why are there so many people in the informal sector?

the right to job security and a safe and
healthy workplace, access to social protection, the
opportunity to voice one’s views and concerns through
a trade union, employers’ organization or other
representative body, and other fundamental rights
such as non-discrimination.

All of those things cost money. Agreed, they’re all desirable too, but they do all cost money. So, when we’re talking about the shitty, shitty, bottom end what happens? People would prefer to have that extra dried and stale crust rather than those desirables. So, that’s what they get.

The informal economy only exists because of the costs of being in the formal one. Which means that if we lower the costs of formalisation then more will formalise. Less regulation, fewer of these expensive worker rights, the more of the economy will be formal.

We might not even like this point yet it is still true.

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Pat
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Pat

I would say that trade unions, formed to mitigate the dire effects of monopsonies, are fighting to continue their existence now that monopsonies are in decline.

Chester Draws
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Chester Draws

In most countries the core of unionism is now — the public sector.

Spike
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Spike

Well, yeah, there are unsatisfactory aspects of every social arrangement, and when participants are free, they tend to improve them.

Now, why is it fundamental to have the “the opportunity to voice one’s views and concerns” in the workplace, and a labor union the optimal vehicle for this? What is “social protection”? Sounds like they want workers to both have the right to Speak Truth to Power, and to avoid hearing it spoken to them. Seconding Pat, this is an institution fighting to invent new reasons why it is relevant.

Barks
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Barks

International organizations are notorious for constantly changing, modifying and enhancing definitions of the ills they’ve nominated themselves to correct. Otherwise they’ll be unemployed.

Spike
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Spike

I give you the U.S. Centers for Disease Control “and Prevention” (the switch to the plural is a recent example of the same thing)