Tuesday July 05, 2022

Against workers

December 12, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic killed more than a million people across the world and presents an unprecedented challenge to public health, food systems and the world of work.

Nearly half of the 3.3 billion people who make up the global workforce is at risk of losing their jobs, while tens of millions of people have fallen or may fall into poverty.

Often the first to lose their jobs are those whose employment was already precarious – sales people, artists, cultural workers, kitchen staff, cleaners and many informal workers.

It does not have to be this way. A new report by the European Environmental Bureau and the European Youth Forum, of which I was the co-author, demonstrates a prosperous future for all is well within our reach if we rethink our approach to work and employment policies.

Let’s face it, the pandemic has preyed on the pre-existing conditions afflicting our economies, unravelling the fragility and deep fault lines running through our labour markets. Long before COVID-19, the current economic system had ceased to work for most workers, let alone the environment. Many people were forced to labour under precarious conditions, without enough money in their pockets to make it to the next paycheque. The pandemic merely exacerbated these existing problems.

Besides all of this, the Earth is in the throes of climate and biodiversity crises fuelled by the overproduction and overconsumption encouraged by our constant quest for endless economic growth. This is causing enormous suffering and threatening the survival of society as we know it.

However, we are not helpless. There are alternatives, positive pathways to a truly prosperous post-coronavirus future. We have the chance to build back better by breaking free of our structural dependence on GDP growth to create jobs. Decisions taken today will determine whether employment works for workers and the environment or against them.

In our report, we highlight numerous innovative policies for making work more rewarding for people while serving broader social and environmental goals.

One of the most debated and popular solutions is to introduce a universal basic income. This is a government programme in which every citizen receives an amount of money which covers their basic needs. It ensures a minimum standard of living for all, and can help narrow the widening inequalities plaguing our societies.

Here, I should point out that a universal basic income is not a substitute for work but an enabler that empowers people to pursue more rewarding forms of labour, including but not limited to paid work.

These can be labours of love, like spending more time with family and friends, caring for loved ones or the community, turning hobbies into professions, volunteering to do socially valuable work, or working on pet projects. Another workable and popular solution is to shorten the working week, with no reduction in pay.

Excerpted: ‘The global economy is working against workers and the environment’