The Cheat Sheet

A bad year for workers, and other bad news

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on January 18, 2017

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C’mon! You relayed some bad news last week as well!

Oh, my apologies. Maybe it’s a statement of mind. In any case, we only interpret the world as it is. Yes, last week we discussed the question of how unequal the world has become (‘Maximum wages, Jeremy Corbyn, and more’, January 12). And you may have noticed that the latest Oxfam study endorses this.

What does it say?

It says just eight men own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world. Oxfam says India’s richest 1 per cent owns more than half the country’s wealth. The study, which was billed a “neo-marxist canard” by critics, didn’t surprise inequality watchers, but shocked the rest of the world for what it has revealed.

And what’s that?

Well, it appears that over the next 20 years, 500 people will hand over $2.1 trillion to their heirs. Mind you, this sum is larger than the GDP of India. Again, the incomes of the poorest 10 per cent of the world population increased by less than $3 a year between 1988 and 2011, while the incomes of the richest 1 per cent increased — hold your breath — 182 times.

But I read that poverty rates are falling across the globe.

They are. The poor are not as poor as they were, say, a few decades ago. For instance, between 2012 and 2013 alone, 100 million people were lifted out of “extreme poverty” (living on less than, say, ₹125 a day). Hunger is also declining. In developing countries, only about 13 per cent of the people are undernourished, against more than 23 per cent in 1990.

But it’s the gap between the rich and the poor that we’re more worried about. If we don’t fix this through policies and corporate action, things will get worse. As things go now, our poverty eradication targets will also miss their deadlines.

How so?

A new report from global labour watchdog ILO says that “working poverty” rates are not falling rapidly and this could undermine the UN Sustainable Development Goals of eradicating poverty. Hence, the number of workers earning less than $3.10 (about ₹200) a day is expected to increase by more than five million over the next two years in developing countries, including India.

What’s the prognosis, then?

No shortcuts here, but to check inequality as much as we can via policies and individual acts. And the most important thing is to create more decent jobs — work that pays well, while offering enough social security cover for workers. This forms the crux of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Is the agenda being pursued with the earnestness it deserves?

I must disappoint you there. The trends reveal otherwise. A new report from ILO shows the number of working age people without proper employment will hit 200 million in 2017. That’s a new record (if you can call it one in the first place). ILO says global unemployment will rise by 3.4 million this year, and by 2.7 million in 2018; that’s because the workforce is growing faster than jobs being created. ILO has bad news for those who work, as well.

What’s that, now?

In all likelihood, they won’t get a raise this year thanks to a myriad reasons, from global slowdown to declining empathy towards workers’ rights. Global wage growth, inflation-adjusted, fell to its slowest pace in four years in 2015 (data for 2016 is yet to come). Half of the workers in southern Asia and nearly two-thirds in sub-Saharan Africa face extreme or moderate poverty, says the ILO.

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Published on January 18, 2017
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