||Issue No. 150||30 August 2002|
Shut It Down!
Interview: Australian Worker
Unions: Morning Ambush
Cole-Watch: Grumpy Old Men
International: Arrested (Sustainable) Development
History: Illegal Alien
Economics: The Trouble With PPPs
Poetry: Is This 'My Country'?
Review: Garage Days
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Arrested (Sustainable) Development
Aiming to integrate the 'social dimension' into all aspects of sustainable development, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions is using the Johannesburg summit to highlight what needs of workers must be taken into account during any shift to a more sustainable system.
These include work-based strategies for sustainable development, employment and social transition programs, and a recognition of the close link between public and workplace concerns.
The ICFTU says that because the engagement of workers is a primary requirement for effectiveness, this success can only be extended to sustainable development "if workers see clear evidence that proper attention has been given to the social dimension of change, especially to employment and poverty issues".
Workers and trade unionists were first designated as a Major Group of Agenda 21 at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. At that summit the UN Commission on Sustainable Development recognised that "changes to unsustainable patterns of production and consumption must begin at the workplace and must involve workers and their trade unions".
Since then 17 framework agreements have been signed between global union federations and multinational corporations. No love has been lost over that time and at the current summit it is corporations that clearly have the upper hand.
Corporate Cowboys Given The Reins
Corporations have been encouraged at the United Nations forum to negotiate voluntary agreements to regulate themselves, using codes of practice to reign in their own environmental pillage.
Meanwhile, the reluctance of governments to adequately legislate against environmentally and socially irresponsible corporations has been the source of continued and escalating frustration on the part of unions and environmentalists alike.
This has culminated in international unions calling for no less than a total redefining of the term sustainable development, with as much emphasis placed on social sustainability as corporations are placing on economic factors. They are also calling for governments to back up the new direction with the full force of the law.
This push and pull forms the backdrop to a broader argument that practical environmental solutions are the real casualties of the summit.
Unions Call For Equity
In light of the ongoing struggle, the unions' push for poverty and social issues to be addressed at the conference seems no more or less ambitious than any strictly environmental goals.
The ICFTU is arguing that taking action on these issues would "serve as an auspicious start for a new deal, and capture the imaginations of people everywhere, giving a boost to poor working men and women all over the world".
It adds that any realistic attempt to deal with poverty must address the problem as it relates to the workplace, by addressing low pay, marginalised employment patterns, and discriminatory pay patterns, such as those affecting women and youth.
Items on the ICFTU's conference outcomes wish list for poverty eradication include:
· an affirmation of "governments' role in implementing policies and mobilising resources to improve investment in the local economy, with progressive systems of national taxation";
· the implementation of mechanisms that will control capital flows with clear, transparent rules;
· an assurance that globalisation will not lead to counter-productive outcomes for development; and
· that debt reduction and relief measures will be improved, with priority given to social services, employment, gender awareness, and workers' rights.
Safety = Sustainability
Another major focus of the unions' agenda is the inclusion of occupational health and safety in the definition of sustainable development.
The ICFTU says work-related illness and injuries are a major drain on world resources but is assuring governments and the international community that strong unions will ensure workplaces are "cleaner and safer" and therefore more sustainable.
The ICFTU reports that unions, employers and governments have already started working together to steadily adapt the focus of joint union and employer health and safety committees that integrate environmental issues with responsibilities to the community.
A Smooth Transition?
One of the main areas where unions are finding a role in sustainable development is during the transition to more sustainable industries. The problem of workers being displaced after environmentally unsound operations are forced to close is unlikely to be fairly dealt with unless unions are able to continue playing a significant role in protecting their members' interests during this time.
Research into more sustainable industries, integrated strategies for retraining, and the consideration of social and cultural issues are just a few ways in which unions have been assisting workers experience a smoother transition to environmentally sound industries.
However, the system has been far from perfected yet and it is crucial that unions around the world develop clear plans to ensure their role in the process is as effective and proactive as possible.
But the ICFTU is arguing that before there can be advancement in any other areas, the definition of sustainability must be brought back to the negotiating table.
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