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Countries urged to act on universal social protection

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Countries have been called on to develop their national social protection systems, which comprise basic, lifelong social security guarantees for all, for health care and income security.

A Call to Action  to this effect was issued by members of the Global Partnership for Universal Social Protection  (USP2030), who convened at a high-level conference at the International Labour Organization (ILO) headquarters on 5 February 2019. The Call to Action refers to earlier member State commitments, particularly to end poverty, undertaken within the Sustainable Development Agenda .

Universal social protection ensures that anyone who needs social protection can access it at any time. This includes child benefits, pensions for older persons and benefits for people of working age in case of maternity, disability, work injury or for those without jobs.

“The ILO Constitution teaches us that poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere. Social protection for anyone in need, at any age, helps ensure against that threat,” said Deborah Greenfield, ILO Deputy Director-General.

Countries in many parts of the world have achieved universal coverage, such as Bolivia, Cabo Verde, Lesotho, Mongolia, Namibia, South Africa and Timor Leste. Mongolia, for instance, has been able to provide universal old age and disability pensions, as well as universal maternity and child benefits.

However, more than half of the global population (4 billion people) still has no access to even one social protection benefit. Forty-five per cent of the global population receives only one social protection benefit. Progress has been best in old-age pensions, with 68 per cent of older persons receiving a pension. However, child and family benefits are limited to one third of the world’s children: 1.3 billion children do not have social protection. The numbers worsen for persons with disabilities: only 28 per cent receive social protection benefits.

“Social protection is an essential tool for reducing poverty and a fundamental human right,” said Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this right protects persons in situations of vulnerability, including the elderly, unemployed, sick, injured or living with a disability and those in need of maternity care, so they can retain their fundamental dignity,” she added.

In many countries, there are still large coverage gaps and inadequate benefits. One challenge, discussed by meeting participants, is the long-term willingness and capability of governments to invest in the expansion of social protection to all, including informal and gig economy workers and women who may work their whole lives but receive no pension.

“Universal social protection is critical: it raises household incomes, consumption and savings, boosting aggregate demand and enhances people’s resilience in the face of shocks, such as those that may result from climate change and structural transformations coming, for example, from new technology affecting work,” said Michal Rutkowski, Senior Director, Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice, World Bank.

Another challenge is how to secure sustainable and equitable financing for social protection. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), developing countries spend just 7 per cent of GDP on social protection whereas OECD countries spend nearly three times that.

“It’s time to make universal social protection a reality. It’s sound economic policy,” said Isabel Ortiz, ILO Director of Social Protection. “To the question about how to finance universal provision,” she added, “there is fiscal space to extend social protection even in the poorest countries, some of which have been using a number of alternative options supported by international organizations.”

Universal social protection is achieved through national policies and programmes that provide equitable access to all people and protect them throughout their lives against poverty and risks to their livelihoods and well-being. This protection can be provided through a range of mechanisms, including via cash or in-kind benefits, contributory or non-contributory schemes, and programmes to enhance human capital, productive assets and access to jobs. The provision of a social protection floor for all people in developing countries costs as little as 1.6 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on average.

“There is a strong business case for social protection. We need to invest in it for development to occur and not wait for development to put it in place. Additional finance can be provided by the private sector, cash transfers and governments who fight tax evasion and avoidance,” said Gabriela Ramos, Chief of Staff and G20 Sherpa, OECD.

National action is required in five areas: protection throughout the life cycle; universal coverage; country-level ownership; sustainable and equitable financing, both domestic and international; and participation and social dialogue.

The Global Partnership for Universal Social Protection (USP2030) supports countries, accelerating progress in building their social protection systems. All countries are invited to join the partnership.

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UNIDO advocates for sustainable energy at EUSEW

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photo: UNIDO

For the second consecutive year, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) took an active part in the European Union’s Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) in Brussels, which focused on ‘Shaping Europe’s Energy Future’. “Ongoing research and collaborative actions between the European Union and Africa are crucial to renew the partnership”, said UNIDO Climate Change Expert Cassandra Pillay. “The aim of this event is to facilitate policy debates and strengthen partnerships between the two continents across private and public sectors”.

Pillay participated in the session “EU-AFRICA Long term Partnership on Sustainable Energy: The Role of Research & Innovation”, with UNIDO also contributing to the “Transport, Energy and Digitalisation – City and Industry Views” session, which was jointly organized by ERTICO-ITS Europe, EUROCITIES, ORGALIM and UNIDO. The session addressed the synergies between the transport, energy and digital sectors to achieve sustainable energy policy goals and aimed at enhancing the value of actions and cross-sectoral work programmes.

The EUSEW is a flagship event organized by the European Commission to bring awareness about renewable and efficient energy use across Europe, which brings together public authorities, private companies, NGOs and consumers to promote initiatives to save energy and move towards renewables for clean, secure and efficient power. More than 4,000 registered participants attended.

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EU mobilises over €18 million for the Central African Republic in 2019

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As many people continue to suffer in the Central African Republic (CAR), the European Union continues to stand in solidarity with the people in need in the country and announces €18.85 million in humanitarian assistance for 2019. This additional support brings EU humanitarian assistance in CAR to more than €135 million since 2014.

Christos Stylianides, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, said: ‘For the EU, the humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic is not a forgotten crisis. We will continue providing assistance to bring life-saving relief to the people in need. We remain, however, concerned about violence levelled against civilians and aid workers in the Central African Republic. Innocent people and humanitarian workers are not a target.’

EU humanitarian funding in the Central African Republic aims at:

helping conflict-affected people whose basic survival depends on humanitarian assistance. Internally displaced people, host communities and returnees are provided with food aid, emergency health and nutrition treatment, water and hygiene, shelter, basic essential items, education, and support to their livelihoods;

preventing violence and providing medical, psychosocial and legal support to victims of violence and human rights breaches;

tackling the food and nutrition crisis with assistance for families in need and for people at high risk of undernutrition, and support to the health sector to step up malnutrition prevention and treatment;

supporting the delivery of aid to areas where poor infrastructure and ongoing fighting make access difficult for humanitarian workers.

The Central African crisis has also an impact on the entire region as 592,000 refugees have sought refuge in neighbouring countries to which the EU is providing support as well.

Background

Since 2013, violent conflict has plunged the Central African Republic into turmoil and a protracted humanitarian crisis. Despite a new peace agreement signed in February 2019, people continue to be affected by violence. Attacks against civilians have been a major driver of the humanitarian situation in the country, leading to mass displacements and a total rupture of their means of subsistence, mainly agriculture.

More than half of the Central African Republic’s population is in need of humanitarian assistance to survive and a quarter of the population is displaced. An estimated 1.8 million people are suffering from a severe lack of food, and almost 38% of children under five years suffer from chronic malnutrition. Almost two thirds of the population has no access to health care, while access to basic social services remains largely dependent on humanitarian actors.

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International Labour Conference ends with adoption of key Convention and Declaration

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photo: ILO

The Centenary Conference of the International Labour Organization  (ILO) ended on Friday with the adoption of an unprecedented Convention and accompanying Recommendation  to combat violence and harassment in the world of work, as well as a Declaration  charting the way towards a human-centred future of work.

The ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work, 2019 , is a reaffirmation of the relevance and importance of the ILO’s mandate in the changing world of work, a strong statement of intent, a mobilizing call, and a road map for action by the ILO itself.

“What we have adopted today is a roadmap, a compass to take us forward in the future of this Organization, because the future of work is the future of our Organization,” said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.

The Declaration looks to the future of work with a human-centred lens. It has a strong focus on enabling people to benefit from changes in the world of work, by strengthening the institutions of work to ensure adequate protection of all workers, and by promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable growth and full and productive employment.

Specific areas for action identified include:

  • The effective realization of gender equality in opportunities and treatment
  • Effective lifelong learning and quality education for all
  • Universal access to comprehensive and sustainable social protection
  • Respect for workers’ fundamental rights
  • An adequate minimum wage
  • Maximum limits on working time
  • Safety and health at work
  • Policies that promote decent work, and enhance productivity
  • Policies and measures that ensure appropriate privacy and personal data protection, and respond to challenges and opportunities in the world of work relating to the digital transformation of work, including platform work.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres  joined some three dozen world leaders who, in the course of the two-week International Labour Conference (ILC), delivered strong messages of support for the ILO and its social justice mandate.

“You are carrying forward the torch that was lit one hundred years ago to help build a new world – a world based on social justice, founded on a model of inclusion – with governments, workers and employers at the decision-making table together,” Guterres said.

Guterres told delegates that the Declaration “marks an historic opportunity to open a door to a brighter future for people around the world.”

“The Declaration is ambitious – setting out the basis for delivering the ILO’s mandate in its second century. But the Centenary Declaration is much more than a statement of wishes or intent. The Declaration proposes a shift in the paradigm of how we look at development,” he said.

Guterres also welcomed the adoption of the Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019, which is accompanied by a Recommendation.

The Convention recognizes that violence and harassment in the world of work “can constitute a human rights violation or abuse…is a threat to equal opportunities, is unacceptable and incompatible with decent work.” It defines “violence and harassment” as behaviours, practices or threats “that aim at, result in, or are likely to result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm.” It reminds member States that they have a responsibility to promote a “general environment of zero tolerance”.

The new international labour standard aims to protect workers and employees, irrespective of their contractual status, and includes persons in training, interns and apprentices, workers whose employment has been terminated, volunteers, jobseekers and job applicants. It recognizes that “individuals exercising the authority, duties or responsibilities of an employer” can also be subjected to violence and harassment.

The standard covers violence and harassment occurring in the workplace; places where a worker is paid, takes a rest or meal break, or uses sanitary, washing or changing facilities; during work-related trips, travel, training, events or social activities; work-related communications (including through information and communication technologies); in employer-provided accommodation; and when commuting to and from work. It also recognizes that violence and harassment may involve third parties.

Ryder welcomed the adoption. “The new standards recognize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, “he said. “The next step is to put these protections into practice, so that we create a better, safer, decent, working environment for women and men. I am sure that, given the co-operation and solidarity we have seen on this issue, and the public demand for action, we will see speedy and widespread ratifications and action to implement.”

Conventions are legally binding international treaties that may be ratified by member States, while Recommendations serve as non-binding guidelines. Declarations are resolutions of the ILO’s member States used to make a formal and authoritative statement.

During the Conference, the Committee on the Application of Standards  adopted conclusions on 24 individual cases  related to issues arising from the implementation of Conventions by ratified by member States.

The Conference outcomes “empower the ILO to perpetuate its commitment to social justice in support of peace in the world,” said Conference President Jean-Jacques Elmiger, head of International Labour Affairs at Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. “Let us dare admit it, our conference will mark history.”

The two-week ILC was attended by about 6,300 delegates, representing Governments, workers and employers from 178 of the ILO’s member States, as well as observer national and international non-governmental organizations.

A number of thematic forums on future of work issues  took place during the Conference, featuring heads of United Nations and multilateral agencies and high-level government, workers’ and employers’ representatives.

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