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World Day of Social Justice: Equality and “decent work” for all

February 20, 2016

A Just Transition – UN
On Saturday, February 20th, 2016, the United Nations has encouraged people to come together to observe the World Day of Social Justice. This day brings attention to the need to consolidate global efforts in bringing an end to poverty and the need to strengthen employee rights and equality around the world. At the very heart of the U.N. mission for social justice is the protection and development of human dignity – something integral to the work of our partners involved in Overcoming Social isolation and Deepening Social Connectedness with events such as Global Dignity Day.

The U.N. has recognized that social development and social justice are mutually inclusive, and neither can be attained “in the absence of respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a specialized, U.N. agency dedicated to labour issues, international labour standards and workers’ rights and contends that “social justice is essential to universal and lasting peace.”

While finding decent work for the unemployed is a matter of serious concern, it is equally important to establish whether current workers are subjected to fair and just employment conditions. The ILO, authors of the 2016 World Economic Social Outlook report, also announced that poor job quality is, unfortunately, ubiquitous and “vulnerable employment” (defined as “categories of work typically subject to high levels of precariousness”) now affects nearly 1.5 billion people worldwide. At the heart of many of these employment situations is appreciable inequality.

The definition of social justice involves the equality of rights for all peoples, free from discrimination – and absolved from any prejudice relating to gender. Equality is a crucial component of secure and reliable employment, and despite some progress in recent years, gender equality in the workplace is still an “elusive goal,” according to the ILO. As a result of this issue, the organization has made equality policies a major component of their recommendations, including long-term measures relating to the reality that gender equality is “at the heart” of decent work around the world.

In Canada, social justice, fair employment and equality are issues facing all governments. In 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Jean-Yves Duclos, an Economics expert, as Minister of Families, Children and Social Development. Duclos previously founded the Poverty and Economic Policy Research Network – an international organization that connects researchers for the purpose of development policy analysis in developing countries. His selection may help foster understanding that social justice is a matter of economic concern.

During a panel on gender equality at the World Economic Forum / Davos 2016, Prime MinisterTrudeau stated that “The strength of any society depends on the full participation of all its citizens, including women.” Last year, however, Canada ranked 30th globally in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index findings. Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Rwanda, Philippines, Switzerland, Slovenia and New Zealand took the top 10 spots on the global index.

There are many factors that could be responsible for vulnerable employment situations, but perhaps one of the most apparent relates to immigration and the link between newcomers and social isolation. Exclusionary situations in the workplace, because of xenophobia, racism, or lack of understanding, can contribute to further alienation and may even prevent access to basic services and legal materials.

Failure to speak the language may also contribute to an absence of knowledge or a misunderstanding of workers rights. In situations like this, social connectedness and inclusion programs are imperative for ensuring active citizenship and dignity. Social activities and cross-cultural engagement programs, aimed at fostering social cohesion and inclusion, would work to empower and connect groups at risk of vulnerable employment. Building social connectedness in these situations may even encourage greater access to policy and decision makers, especially if programs are run by local government agencies.

While encouraging people to engage so they can receive access to services, it is also possible that by not offering information and services at the onset, new members of the community will become frustrated and ultimately disengage. The Australian Linkage Council Research Project reported that “Distance from services constitutes the bulk of reported reasons for young people’s lack of involvement in different social and community programs.” Therefore, the possibility of creating a vicious circle of social exclusion as a result of vulnerable employment is undeniable. It is also important that social networks are maintained in order to open the door to new job opportunities – weak ties to the community and a fragile social network may create disadvantageous conditions for seeking and securing employment.

It is crucial that Canadian citizens and organizations continue the push for decent work and fair employment policies. Not only is gender equality an important workplace issue, but safe conditions, secure employment, access to resources and fair income are all important matters that require constant monitoring and evaluation – both in Canada and around the globe. The ILO and Canada’s CLC and Workers’ Action Centre are three such organizations committed to establishing standards for better employment conditions. Nonetheless, ensuring fair and decent work is the responsibility of all the world’s citizens, as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon aptly expressed in his message for the World Day of Social Justice: “Lack of social justice anywhere is an affront to us all.”