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‘New tech’ business model threatens decent work conditions

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Unemployment is down globally but workers’ conditions have not improved, the UN said on Wednesday, warning that some businesses driven by new technology “threaten to undermine” hard-won social gains of recent decades.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), most of the 3.3 billion people employed worldwide in 2018 did not enjoy adequate levels of economic security, and lacked sufficient material well-being as well as too few opportunities for advancement.

In total, 172 million people were jobless last year – one in 20 individuals of working age – ILO’s Trends in Global Employment 2019 report shows.

This unemployment rate, which has only just returned to levels last seen before the 2008-9 financial crisis, is not expected to change this year or next, assuming stable global economic conditions; although current uncertainty is “already having a negative effect on the labour market” in upper middle-income countries, it says.

Nonetheless, “being in employment does not always guarantee a decent living,” said Damian Grimshaw, ILO Director of Research. “A full 700 million people are living in extreme or moderate poverty despite having employment.”

Fewer working-poor…in middle-income countries

On a positive note, the ILO report highlights that working poverty has decreased in middle-income countries over the past three decades, although poorer nations are likely to see a rise in the number of working poor.

This is because the pace of poverty reduction is not expected to keep up with employment growth in these emerging economies, despite China’s major contribution in reducing the working poor levels as a result of strong economic growth since 1993.

The ILO data also shows that 360 million people in 2018 worked in a family business and 1.1 billion worked for themselves – often in subsistence activities because of an absence of job opportunities in the formal sector and/or the lack of a social protection system.

Workers ‘unable to find more work or too discouraged to look’

Linked to the challenge of bringing down unemployment, the UN report identifies a lack of opportunity for those who want to work.

This includes those who would like to make the jump from part-time to full-time work and the long-term jobless, who become so discouraged that they stop looking.

Taken together, poor workplace conditions, unemployment and gender inequality have contributed to slower-than-anticipated progress in achieving the key development goal of sustainable work for all, as set out in the 2030 Agenda.

Under 48 per cent of women work, versus 75 per cent of men

Among the most striking labour issues in the report is the continued lack of progress made in closing the gender gap at work, with less than 50 per cent of women in the labour force in 2018, compared with three quarters of men.

This problem is universal, ILO maintains, although the gender gap is widest in the Arab States, Northern Africa and Southern Asia.

Another challenge is the size of the informal sector – a “staggering” two billion workers, or 61 per cent of the world’s workforce. “Informal employment is the reality for the majority of workers worldwide,” ILO notes.

Also of concern is the fact that more than one in five people under 25 years old are not in employment, education or training; part of 15 per cent decline between 1993 and 2018 that is set to continue.

Innovative technology threatens to undermine rights at work

Noting how a country’s level of development is linked to the availability of reasonably paid work or adequate welfare protection for those who need it, the report cautions that these and other labour market achievements “are still elusive” for many.

“Securing these gains is therefore a major challenge that policy-makers must face up to,” the ILO WESO report insists, noting also that innovative technologies “threaten to undermine” these labour market achievements and others, such as job security, collective bargaining and compliance with labour standards and rights at work.

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Health & Wellness

Over 500,000 people have been inoculated against COVID-19 in Moscow

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The number of people who wish to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in Moscow has reached half a million, and over 500,000 of them have already received their first jab. Every day between 12,000 and 20,000 residents of the city sign up for vaccination.

Vaccines are being administered in 100 vaccination points in city polyclinics and 20 popular public places, where mobile teams have been deployed. The list of categories of citizens entitled to vaccination is constantly expanding and the city’s vaccination campaign is picking up pace.

The list of categories of citizens prioritized for vaccination also includes Muscovites over the age of 60 years old (who form the largest risk group and are most vulnerable to COVID-19). More than 9,000 residents of 33 retirement homes have already been vaccinated. In addition, vaccination is recommended for people with chronic diseases who need to stay at home, as well as college and university students over 18 years of age.

A convenient online vaccination appointments system has been set up specially for Muscovites in the mos.ru portal. It can be accessed by going to ‘Doctor’s Appointment’ in the list of services and selecting ‘Vaccination Against COVID-19’.

In addition, vaccine appointments can be made via the My Moscow mobile app, the Moscow Gosuslugi government services website and the emais.info medical services portal, as well as by calling a vaccination center. The vaccine is administered in two doses, with appointments for the second injection being made automatically.

Many large employers are requesting on-site vaccination of their staff, and this network will be gradually expanded. Naturally, the throughput capacity of such organizations and, most importantly, the employers’ wishes are being taken into account.

Detailed information on the vaccination program has also been posted in the portal’s special project.

The Sputnik V vaccine consists of two components requiring two injections, and provides a reliable immune response. Volunteers will first be injected with the first component of the vaccine, with a second vaccination following 21 days later. Only the first appointment needs to be booked, as the doctor will arrange the patient’s second visit on the day of their first vaccination. To ensure that people do not forget about their re-vaccination, they will receive an SMS message the day before it, reminding them of the date, time and clinic they need to attend.

The vaccination process takes at least an hour, including a 10-minute examination by a doctor before the vaccination and 15 minutes spent preparing the vaccine, which is stored in frozen state (with five doses in one vial) and thawed for five patients at once when they have been examined. Post-vaccination observation and examination take a further 30 minutes. Each patient receives a certificate recording the two injections and confirming that they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The vaccine was produced using a biotechnological process based on the most modern technological platform created by Russian scientists. It is safe because it does not contain the coronavirus. It is based on special structures (carrier vectors) created in the laboratory that contain only a part of the virus gene. Upon encountering the vaccine, the human immune system produces protective antibodies.

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Belarus human rights situation deteriorating further

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Large crowds have demonstrated their anger at the results of the presidential election in Belarus. Photo: Kseniya Halubovich

A “systematic crackdown” against dissent in Belarus is continuing, months since the country’s disputed presidential election last year, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet has told the Human Rights Council.

In comments to the Geneva forum on Thursday, the High Commissioner for Human Rights insisted that curbs on demonstrators had got worse since last August’s poll returned President Alexander Lukashenko to office.

Those protests had led to “mass arbitrary arrests and detentions” of largely peaceful demonstrators, along with “hundreds of allegations of torture and ill-treatment”, Ms. Bachelet said, before noting that “not one of the hundreds of complaints for acts of torture and ill-treatment” had been investigated.

The High Commissioner highlighted concerns about Government proposals which would reportedly “enable harsher punishments” for those taking part in peaceful demonstrations from now on.

To date, nearly 250 people have received prison sentences on allegedly politically-motivated charges context of the 2020 presidential election, Ms. Bachelet said.

‘Unprecedented’ human rights crisis

The OHCHR report “covers serious violations” of rights between 1 May and 20 December last year. “The events that unfolded before and immediately after the election have led to a human rights crisis of unprecedented dimension in the country”, added Ms. Bachelet.

All of the violations detailed “committed with impunity, created an atmosphere of fear”, she said, noting the further deterioration since December.

She said journalists were being increasingly targeted, “and human rights defenders both institutionally and individually. Just last week, large-scale searches of human rights defenders, journalists, and organizations such as the Belarusian Association of Journalists and Viasna (A Minsk-based human rights centre) were conducted, reportedly in connection with criminal investigations for ‘mass disorder’”.

Release innocent protesters

She told the Council it was “essential for the future of the country that respect for human rights, and the broadest possible civic space, be established. All those who have been detained for peacefully exercising their rights should be released.”

The rights chief called for “thorough, effective, credible and transparent investigations” into all the allegations of serious violations, with perpetrators being brought to justice, as well as an “immediate end” to the Government policy of harassment and intimidation of civil society and media workers.

“I further recommend comprehensive reform of the national legal framework”, she concluded. “Our report includes specific recommendations, which address key systemic issues, including with respect to fair trials, due process and the independence of the judiciary.”

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Natalia Vodianova joins UNFPA to tackle stigma and advance women’s health

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Russian supermodel and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova has been appointed as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA. Photo: UNFPA

The UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, on Wednesday appointed supermodel, philanthropist, and impact investor Natalia Vodianova as its newest Goodwill Ambassador, in an effort to empower women and girls, including fighting stigma surrounding menstruation.

“For too long, society’s approach to menstruation and women’s health has been defined by taboo and stigma”, said Ms. Vodianova, stressing that the situation “has undermined the most basic needs and rights of women.”

In her new role with UNFPA, officially known as the UN Population Fund, Ms. Vodianova will seek to help culturally redefine menstruation, as a normal bodily function.

On any given day, more than 800 million women and girls aged 15 to 49 are actively menstruating. In many countries, taboos surrounding the cycle leaves girls vulnerable and can even be life-threatening, says UNFPA, as they are excluded from public life, denied opportunities, sanitation and basic health needs.

Major mission

The agency said in a press release, that the issue has been starved of the attention it deserves, but in recent years that has started to change, and “achieving this, is central to UNFPA’s mandate”.

“It’s a tragic irony that something as universal as menstruation can make girls feel so isolated…We all have a role to play in breaking the taboos around menstruation”, said UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem, underscoring the significance of spotlighting the damage caused.

She added that the agency “is pleased to partner with such a powerful and committed advocate. Societies prosper when girls are confident, empowered and making their own decisions!”

Building on past momentum

Over the past three years, Ms. Vodianova has teamed up with UNFPA to launch a series of “Let’s Talk” events worldwide, which have mobilised policy makers, civil society and the private sector to help tackle shame, exclusion and discrimination, faced routinely by millions of women and girls.

Leaders from various sectors such as fashion, politics, sport, technology and media have also gathered in Turkey, Kenya, Switzerland, Belarus and India to advance women’s health.

Raised in poverty by a single mother in Russia, along with caring for a half-sister who has cerebral palsy and autism, Ms.Vodianova is a passionate advocate for human rights, including reproductive rights and the rights of people living with disabilities, UNFPA noted.

The agency said it was looking forward to working with her in her role as a bridge builder across the fashion and technology industries, where she’s an influential international voice, to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

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