Changing the rules for working women

This Labour Day the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is launching a call for a New Social Contract. What does this mean for working women? In the aftermath of #MeToo, 2019 is shaping up to be a key year in tackling gender-based violence at work.

Globally, women are over-represented in poorly paid, insecure and informal work, including in the supply chains of multinational corporations. In addition, 818 million women have experienced violence and harassment. This represents a massive barrier to achieving economic and social justice for women, which is estimated to be a whopping 202 years away. If we allow those at the top to continue to pass the buck of responsibility, progress towards women’s economic and social justice will continue to wane.

Under intense pressure from corporate lobbyists, the rules of today’s global economy have been crafted to disassociate profit from responsibility. Multinational corporations are absolutely free of any obligation to ensure decent working conditions for the people who they rely on for their profits. The latest figures speak for themselves. They show that the number of countries in which workers experience physical violence and threats has risen by 10 per cent in just one year; the share of wealth that goes to working people has been on a downward slide for decades and, among them, women get the least. The opposite is true for the richest 1 per cent, who capture 82 per cent of global wealth generated.

Food supply chains are particularly harsh environments for women, as their work often goes unseen and their voices at the negotiation table are the least heard.

Agri-business corporations have built their global supply chains on the exploitation of women’s labour. They pay workers the least in sectors that employ the most women.

In the production of Kenyan green beans and Indian tea for instance, Oxfam research showed that women make barely half of what they need to cover the everyday basics. Governments and supply chain decision-makers regularly fail to ensure their fundamental right to join a union. As a result, they don’t speak up against abusive working conditions and labour practices for fear of reprisals.

Getting it right for a fairer deal

The problem is a global one, and global solutions beckon. The first stop is the International Labour Organization (ILO), which has the power to set minimum labour standards for work around the world. This year marks its 100th anniversary and trade unions are pushing to raise the bar and set rules fit for the world of work in the 21st century.

Part of the discussions will focus on ending gender-based violence at work. Unions are pushing for binding rules that would cover all workers with basic legal protections to ensure that every woman and man has the right to a working environment free of violence and harassment.

The ITUC’s global call for a New Social Contract aims to fulfil a fundamental shift in what we as societies prioritise. Through the Universal Labour Guarantee, it means ensuring basic rights and standards to all working people, regardless of their contractual status. It means challenging the patriarchal structures and linking profit to responsibility, it means closing the loopholes that enable tax avoidance and ensuring that gender-based violence is a thing of the past. Put plain and simple: the rules of the game were set by people and with your support, we’re pushing people to set them right.