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It doesn’t add up!

by Sharan Burrow

It doesn't add up!

As governments, employers and unions prepare to sit down at the ILO to debate the failure of global supply chains to guarantee decent work, I am in Manila where the struggle for too many of these workers is to just survive.

In the Philippines the majority of workers are dependent on the minimum wage. These wages don’t cover the costs of basic needs for working families. When a minimum wage is around USD$8 - $10 per day, depending on the region - and less for many workers on short-term contracts - the challenge just to pay for basic needs is a losing game.

For families with a baby, a week’s supply of milk formula will be a days’ wages, and rent takes up a minimum of two days as well. With more than half a weekly wage committed, food, electricity, water, transport and other services are not yet covered. It just doesn’t add up!

The calculation by workers is that around USD$12 per day is the minimum necessary to have a living wage, but few actually have this security.

Why are workers in the supply chains of major companies such as Samsung, Panasonic, Toshiba and big name companies in the auto, textiles and food processing sectors or indeed many other global corporations, living in such desperate circumstances? All it would take to pay a living minimum wage is a tiny percentage more going to workers for each item produced.

And when men and women who can’t make ends meet decide to form a union to negotiate fair wages, secure contracts of employment or safe work, the punishment can be swift and harsh - harassment, allocation of menial tasks even for highly skilled workers, and in many cases dismissal for fictitious reasons.

Freedom of association is not guaranteed in the face of corporate greed and bullying. Indeed mega-corporations such as Samsung will tear up supply contracts if unions are recognised in their supply chain.

You have to ask "why"? Corporate profits for the big giants are not in trouble, cash reserves are massive for many companies and yet the denial of fundamental human and labour rights is central to the corporate model.

Indeed the major corporations depend on a hidden workforce of up to 94 per cent. Directly employing only some 6 per cent workers of the workers on whom they depend for their profits, these corporations know that the model of low wages, insecure and often unsafe work exists. But most take no responsibility for decent work in their supply chains.

These companies have lost their moral compass and the result is simply greed; corporate greed which is crushing the lives of families.

This global model of trade must change. Governments must stand up for their people and reject the pressure of big business. It requires labour legislation, minimum living wages, collective bargaining, labour inspectorates and fast and efficient labour courts which deliver justice.

Equally, governments must secure the health, education and pensions of working families with universal social protection floors.

The answers are clear - the challenge is for the ILO with its unique tripartite system to show that the rule of law is respected and that the world’s wealth can be more fairly shared.

Stop the scandal: end corporate greed.

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