Trade Union’s commitment to reach the Millennium Development Goals



On 22 of September 2000, during the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, 189 Heads of States and Governments signed an Agreement: The Millennium Declaration. This document has had the aim to cut poverty in half by 2015, through the achievement of so-called Eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s).



The Eight Goals are: 1.End Poverty and Hunger; 2.Universal Education; 3.Gender Equality; 4.Child Health; 5.Maternal Health; 6.Combat HIV/AIDS; 7.Environmental Sustainability; 8.Global Partnership.


This is a global action plan to alleviate the economic and social problems of the less developed countries, by promoting environmental sanitation, agricultural production, telecommunications, the fight against illiteracy, and by paying more attention to the issue of environment: a great struggle against poverty, ignorance and disease, where the fundamental Human Rights are put in the first place, in developing countries as well as in rich countries.


For example, the First and more ambitious Goal says: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, and is divided into three sub target. The second of which reads: Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people.


Surely, this aim links people from the North and the South, overall in this period where unemployment has reached record numbers all around the World. And if we analyze the dates of young unemployment these numbers are so much higher.  


In fact, in last two years the effects of the economic crisis have caused the deterioration of the labour market, with a large decline in employment; as jobs were lost, more workers have been forced into vulnerable employment; since the economic crisis, more workers find themselves and their families living in extreme poverty.


Since 20 to 22 September 2010, took place in New York The UN Review Summit to evaluate progress about Millennium Development Goals. This Summit concluded by repeating commitment to achieve the eight anti-poverty goals by their 2015 target date. UN Governments gave the announcement to finance women’s and children’s health by allocating 40 billion Dollars over the next five years and other initiatives; as such that of French President Sarkozy to promote an international tax on financial transactions, which could also be used in support of sustainable development as well as against climate change.


A picture of world poverty


According to one estimate of International Labour Organization, there are 2 billion of people in the world who live on less than 2 Dollars per day, while 1.20 billions suffer hunger. In 2008 about 633 million of workers (21.2% of all workers in the world) lived with an income of less than 1.25 Dollars per day.


Due to the crisis, other 215 million of workers have fallen below poverty line: 100 of them are from South Asia and 28 from Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, between 2008 and 2009 more 7% was at poverty risk.


The ILO report published on the occasion of the G20 Summit in Seoul , 11-12 November 2010, estimates that unemployment has reached 210 million in the mid 2010, or 30 million above the 2007 level. In 2010, compared with the same period in 2009, unemployment has grown in ten Countries of G20, while has decreased in other eight, among those analyzed[1]. During 2010, the best results in increasing employment have been reached by all Emerging economies, except South Africa . On the contrary, in Europe unemployment is 30% more respect the level pre-crisis, and the rest of High Income Countries did worst, increasing of 70%. For the 18 countries with data in the first half of 2010, 70 million persons are registered as unemployed (15.5 in Europe , 22 in other High income economies and 32.5 in Emerging economies), with a median of 7.8% (a rate that ranges between 5 and 25%). In this context, young people suffer the lack of work more of all. On average, 16/20% of them around the G20 Countries don’t work (in Spain more than 40% are jobless) and the data about the young people who work is worrying: in Italy only one young person out of five, between 15 and 24 years old, has got a job: penultimate State among OECD Countries (only Hungary did worst); while in France about one active youth in four is unemployed[2]. In addition in many countries, as well as in Italy , there are a lot of people who are discouraged (especially young people) and don’t look for a job anymore. They don’t fall within unemployment rate that should be much higher.


The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)


The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is the main international trade union organisation, representing the interests of working people worldwide. It has 301 affiliated member organisations in 151 countries and territories, with a total membership of 176 million workers. The ITUC was founded at its inaugural Congress in Vienna, Austria , on 1 -3 November 2006. It groups together the former affiliates of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labour (WCL), along with trade union organisations which had no global affiliation. The ICFTU and the WCL dissolved themselves on 31 October 2006, to pave the way for the creation of the ITUC.


The ITUC assumes the aim of combating poverty, exploitation, oppression and inequality, ensuring the conditions for the enjoyment of universal human rights, and promoting effective representation of working women and men worldwide. It recognises that, to succeed, it must adapt the working methods of the international trade union movement to the challenges and opportunities of globalisation, make international trade union action an integral part of the work of national trade union organisations, and mobilise worldwide action in support of its objectives.


The International Labour Organization (ILO)


The International Labour Organization (ILO) is the only tripartite U.N. agency with government, employer, and worker representatives. This tripartite structure makes the ILO a unique forum in which the governments and the social partners of the economy of its 183 Member States can freely and openly debate and elaborate labour standards and policies.


The ILO was created in 1919, as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, to reflect the belief that universal and lasting peace can be accomplished only if it is based on social justice.


The Constitution was drafted between January and April, 1919, by the Labour Commission set up by the Peace Conference, which first met in Paris and then in Versailles. The Commission was composed of representatives from nine countries: Belgium, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, Japan, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States . It resulted in a tripartite organization, the only one of its kind bringing together representatives of governments, employers and workers in its executive bodies.


In the second half of nineteenth century, the world of work was subject to new kind of exploitation due to the new forms of Industrial organisation taken by the Second Industrial Revolution.


In the same time, it was growing up the awareness that until any nations continue to adopt heavy conditions of labour the rest of them which desire to improve it will be foiled in their efforts.


So, the Preamble was innovative for that time, but remains relevant today, for example:


Regulation of the hours of work including the establishment of a maximum working day and week;


Regulation of labour supply, prevention of unemployment and provision of an adequate living wage;


Protection of the worker against sickness, disease and injury arising out of his employment;


Protection of children, young persons and women;


Provision for old age and injury, protection of the interests of workers when employed in countries other than their own;


Recognition of the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value;


Recognition of the principle of freedom of association;


Organisation of vocational and technical education, and other measures.


The ILO has made signal contributions to the world of work from its early days. The first International Labour Conference held in Washington in October 1919 adopted six International Labour Conventions, which dealt with hours of work in industry, unemployment, maternity protection, night work for women, minimum age and night work for young persons in industry.


The ILO was located in Geneva in the summer of 1920 with France ’s Albert Thomas as the first Director of the International Labour Office, which is the Organization’s permanent Secretariat.


A Committee of Experts was set up in 1926 as a supervisory system on the application of ILO standards. The Committee, which exists today, is composed of independent jurists responsible for examining government reports and presenting its own report each year to the Conference.


“Decent Work” agenda


Work is central to people’s well-being. In addition to providing income, work can represents the way to ease social and economic tensions, strengthening individuals, their families and communities. But this work whose we’re talking about must be decent. Decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives.


The ILO has developed an agenda for the community of work. Putting the Decent Work Agenda into practice, this is achieved through the implementation of the ILO’s four strategic objectives, and gender equality assumes great relevance in each of these:  


Creating Jobs: an economy that generates opportunities for investment, entrepreneurship, skills development, job creation and sustainable livelihoods;


Guaranteeing rights at work to obtain recognition and respect for the rights of workers. All workers, and in particular disadvantaged or poor workers, need representation, participation, and laws that work for their interests;


Extending social protection to promote both inclusion and productivity by ensuring that women and men enjoy safe working conditions, allow adequate free time and rest, take into account family and social values, provide for adequate compensation in case of lost or reduced income and permit access to adequate healthcare;


Promoting social dialogue: involving strong and independent workers’ and employers’ organizations is central to increasing productivity, avoiding disputes at work, and building cohesive societies.


The overall goal of Decent Work is to effect positive change in people’s lives at the national and local levels. The ILO provides support through integrated Decent Work Country Programmes developed in coordination with ILO constituents. They define the priorities and the targets within national development frameworks and aim to tackle major Decent Work deficits through efficient programmes that embrace each of the strategic objectives.


The ILO operates with other partners within and beyond the UN family to provide in-depth expertise and key policy instruments for the design and implementation of these programmes. It also provides support for building the institutions needed to carry them forward and for measuring progress. The balance within these programmes differs from country to country, reflecting their needs, resources and priorities.


Progress also requires action at the global level. The Decent Work agenda offers a basis for a more just and sustainable framework for global development. The ILO works to develop “Decent Work” oriented approaches to economic and social policy in partnership with the principal institutions and actors of the multilateral system and the global economy.


Evaluation of outcomes of the Summit of the General Assembly on the Millennium Development Goals – UN, New York , 20/22 September 2010


The United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) concluded on Wednesday 22 September 2010, with the adoption of the Summit Outcome Document – Keeping the Promise: United to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals.


Trade Union participation in the Summit


A Trade Union delegation led by ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow, participated actively in various events at the Summit, while some participants engaged in dialogue with their government representatives, to underline the great trade unionist’s interest for reaching the MDGs by 2015. In first, the delegations wanted to see any concrete progress, particularly in poverty eradication through decent work and social protection.


The Outcome Document adopted by the 140 Heads of State and Governments present at the Summit is structured into 4 main parts:


– A preamble or Political Declaration affirming Member States’ resolve to make every effort to achieve the MDGs by 2015, working within the context of the policy and normative framework of the UN, particularly the human rights treaties.


– An appraisal of progress (or setbacks) in achieving the MDGs, signaling, in particular, the multiple crises and their negative impacts, and resolving to benefit from lessons learned for the replication and of best practice on a number of fronts including:


1. Adopting forward-looking macro-economic policies that incorporate productive employment opportunities;


2. Promoting universal access to public and social services and social protection floors;


3. Implementing social policies and programmes, including appropriate conditional cash-transfer programmes, and investing in basic services for health, education, water and sanitation;


4. Respecting and promoting all human rights;


5. Enhancing opportunities for women and girls and advancing the economic, legal and political empowerment of women;


6. Working towards greater transparency and accountability in international development cooperation, in both donor and developing countries.


– A plan of action which sets out general principles, followed by specific action plans for each of the 8 MDGs.


– Conclusions which reiterate the resolve of Member States to engage in the process to 2015, while conducting annual reviews of progress at the level of the General Assembly, with a major mid-term review in 2013.


Trade unions welcome decent work commitments


In reviewing the Outcome Document, trade unions have welcomed the sections devoted to MDG1 on poverty eradication, since employment, decent work and social protection are recognized as central to poverty eradication. Member states have, in effect, committed themselves to adopting coherent macroeconomic policies consistent with the pursuit of “job-intensive, sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth and sustainable development to promote full and productive employment and decent work for all, including for women, indigenous people, young people, people with disabilities and rural population”. Of equal importance is their resolve to “promote the Global Jobs Pact as a general framework within which each country can formulate policy packages specific to its situation and national priorities in order to promote a job intensive recovery and sustainable development”, and their recognition of the importance of social protection and “universal access to social services” for the achievement of the MDGs. In what is a first for a UN Summit Outcome Document, Member States recognize the need for involving employers and workers’ representatives in initiatives on employment and decent work.


Action Plans


MDG 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger


Priority areas include youth employment, creation of inclusive financial services, ensuring women’s equal access to these services, investments to support small-scale producers, with a view to enhancing decent livelihoods in the rural and agricultural sector, and achieving food security. Contrary to the IFI-inspired policy prescriptions of the past, the emphasis in this outcome document has shifted to local production as the model for sustainable development, rather than export-led growth.


MDG 2: Achieve universal primary education


Trade unions will be pleased that the Outcome Document recognizes the Dakar Framework for Action on Education for All (2000) as central for promoting universal primary education, asserts the need for predictable development financing through international cooperation, supplemented by innovative sources for education financing. the Document recognizes the need to move beyond universal primary education to focus on the transition process to secondary education and vocational training, and relevant skills acquisition for entry into the labour market, such as Trade unions recommended through their lobbying efforts. The document, however, stops short of the call made in the Trade Union Statement to the Summit which had advocated for removing “barriers to educational and transitioning opportunities at all levels”, that is including the tertiary level (removal of all barriers to girls’ education; priority focus on issues of recruitment, training, professional development, employment and conditions of work of teachers).


MDG 3: Promote gender equality and the empowerment of women


Structured discrimination in the world of work must be addressed, including pay inequity, and the failure to recognize women’s unpaid work in the care economy. Serious efforts need to be made to ensure that women benefit from measures to generate productive employment and decent work, and support measures need to be put in place to enhance income earning capacities and opportunities for women living in poverty.


Health MDGs: the Outcome Document endorses the Secretary General’s new initiative: the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, and recognizes the need to develop and strengthen national public health systems as a prerequisite to achieving MDG 4 (Reduce child mortality), MDG 5 (Improve maternal health) and MDG 6 (Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases). The Document asserts the need to develop adequate health workforce plans that pay attention to training, recruitment and retention. It encourages measures to address the loss of skilled health personnel through migration, including adherence to the World Health Organization code of practice on the international recruitment of health personnel.


On MDG6, the Outcome Document calls for the strengthening of international cooperation to combat HIV/AIDS, and for predictable long-term financing through the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and through innovative financing mechanisms. The Document asserts the need to address the stigmatization and discrimination of people living with HIV, but fails to acknowledge the workplace dimensions of discrimination, and the need to adopt workplace approaches to addressing discrimination as well as providing treatment and care in keeping with the ILO Recommendation on “HIV and AIDS and the World of Work” (June, 2010), as called for in the Trade Union Statement to the Summit. The Document recognizes the need to reduce vulnerabilities and risks of women and girls through structural interventions that target behavioral change, including the adoption of rights-based approaches that promote “the empowerment of women and adolescent girls so as to increase their capacity to protect themselves from the risk of HIV infection”.


MDG 7: Environmental sustainability


The Outcome Document calls for comprehensive and coherent planning frameworks that address environmental degradation, bio-diversity loss and climate change. It affirms the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) as the intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change. It calls for strategies for new and renewable energy sources, low emission technologies, and sustainable patterns of production and consumption. But the document fails to acknowledge the need for just transition policies to address labour adjustment in the process, as called for in the Trade Union Statement.


MDG 8: Global Partnership for Development


Governments committed to strengthening their global partnership for development through a holistic approach based on the principles of policy coherence as stated in the Monterrey and Doha Declarations on Financing for development, ensuring an enabling environment for the achievement of the MDGs through adequate and effective aid, fair trade, attention paid to debt issues, support for domestic resource mobilization, socially responsible FDI and innovative sources of funding for development. The Document recognizes the work being done on a Financial Transactions Tax (FTT), but falls short of endorsing it, as called for in the Trade Union Statement to the Summit.




ITUC deplores the lack of firm measureable commitments in the Summit Outcome Document, but welcomes the progress on decent work, social protection and social dialogue.


It may be said that the Summit Outcome Document is comprehensive in the range of policy measures and strategies it outlines for achieving the MDGs by 2015. However, the language of the Document can be characterized as pious affirmations and promises; and it would be difficult to measure concrete progress, and to hold governments accountable to their commitments on this basis. But the document does advance the labor agenda within development policy, and in particular advances decent work by having a good social protection component, as well as the recognition of workers’ representatives in the process and the need for social dialogue. Compared to the 2005 Summit Outcome Document which had devoted one short paragraph to decent work, this represents considerable progress. The corresponding sections of the 2010 Summit Outcome Document provide leverage points which trade unions can use to advantage in trying to ensure that their governments remain committed to the MDGs, with a priority focus on the decent work/social protection dimensions of MDG1 on poverty eradication.


[1] Data are aggregated into three groups: Europe includes France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and United Kingdom . High-income Economies (except Europe) include Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, and the United States . Emerging economies include Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey .