In the face of the threats from recent global trends such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and digital technology, workers and their trade unions have witnessed how governments and the prevailing systems are not adequately built to overcome multiple crises.
Over the past 10 years prior to the pandemic, economies in Asia and the Pacific grew steadily. However, the share of labour income was declining, indicating that the gains of economic growth remain concentrated in the hands of the capital. This is unsurprising as many employers attempt to maximise short-term profits by cutting labour expenses. But it should be noted that the decline in labour income share has widened the inequality between capital and labour and has stagnated the economy.
Shoya Yoshida, General Secretary of ITUC-Asia Pacific, said:
“We want a future of work where workers’ contribution to the society and the economy is fully recognised and rightfully compensated and where minimum living wages enable workers to meet their needs and live a life of dignity.”
Wages feed not only the workers and their families but also their countries’ economic growth. When wages remain stagnant, consumption is not stimulated, tax revenues fall, and gross domestic product (GDP) shrinks. There should be a legally binding minimum living wage at a sufficient and realistic level as a floor of income. Contrary to the assumption that higher wages weaken corporate competitiveness and increase unemployment, many studies argue that higher wages ensure a quality workforce, increase productivity and national competitiveness, boost domestic demands, enhance social cohesion, and support sustainable and inclusive growth.
While it is primarily governments that implement policies, a well-functioning democracy must include workers’ voices in all policymaking processes – from design and implementation to monitoring and evaluation. Workers must not passively accept or follow the policies determined by governments; rather, they must actively participate in policymaking, especially on issues that directly affect their work and lives.
Shoya Yoshida asserted: “Governments should establish a machinery based on social dialogue to determine minimum living wages above the national poverty line and based on the socially acceptable basic needs of workers and their families to live with dignity, in reference to economic and industrial conditions. Trade unions and collective bargaining are imperative in pushing for pay rise and decent and living wages for workers.”
“If we want to make a difference to the current rules to benefit the majority of the people by advancing pay rise and ensuring decent work for all, we need to build workers’ power and negotiate a new social contract founded on the workers’ six demands: jobs, rights, wages, social protection, equality, and inclusion,” Shoya Yoshida added.