Trade Unions in the fight against poverty
By Hon Margaret Rwabushaija
Trade unions play a critical role in the global economy on the fight against poverty International Labour Organization ( ILO) estimates, 1.39 billion workers worldwide almost half of the world's total workforce, and nearly 60 per cent of the workers in the developing countries do not earn enough to lift themselves and their families above the US $2 a day poverty line.
Millions of workers have no direct representation, no social protection and engage in survival activities. Inequality between and within countries is increasing. Indeed, the vast majority of people are not sharing the benefits of globalization and shaping it, this call for trade unions to continue spearheading the fight against poverty and to promote social justice in the global economy. Trade Unionism is a means for workers to liberate themselves from poverty and social exclusion. Workers use trade unions as their representative voice to demand their rights and improve their living and working conditions. The formation of trade unions was a reaction against the mechanisms of pauperization, notably: low pay long working hours, child labour and generally appalling working conditions. And so trade unionism has always been about eradicating poverty.
Trade Unions need to reorganize to fight poverty; trade unions are effective tool for workers to escape poverty, exploitation and the violation of their basic human dignity. It also means Organizing collective bargaining and other forms of negotiations and creative social dialogue and engagement, it means engaging in the struggle for democratic governance, decent employment and quality public services, with full access for the unemployed, underemployed, and working poor. Trade unions have a major role to play in helping to reduce gender inequality. Most unions need to make their policies and programs more attuned to the needs of female workers.
The election of more women into key leadership positions within trade unions should be an urgent priority. Economic growth is not sufficient condition for poverty reduction. Countries that had significantly reduced poverty have combined growth with structural change. In particular, those developing countries that have expanded their manufacturing sectors and reduced reliance on the agriculture sector had preformed best.
In the best examples structural change of this nature led to higher incomes for workers, this in turn facilitated greater education and the acquisition of higher skills leading to productivity improvements. Trade Unions and labour centers should put much more attention on solving the problems which bring about income inequality and to provide policy advice to reverse these trends. Evidence showing income redistribution is compatible with faster economic growth. Policies that suggested on income redistribution include suitable and increased access to social security minimum wages, a more progressive tax structure, land reform, low wage subsidies, and subsidies for basic needs.
A gender approach has to be taken into consideration in formulating and implementing all these policies. Governments should fully respect and promote workers’ fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining as a means of ensuring a fair distribution of economic growth and incomes. They should ensure the full implementation, at national level, of the Millennium Development and goals for which it is necessary for governments, inter alia, to increase their social sector expenditure, reform public policies and to increase access of female workers to credit, land and other resources ■