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Full employment and decent work for all by 2030?

Along with 192 other nations, Canada recently committed to achieve a sweeping set of 17 UNSustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030.

Together with commitments to protect the environment, reduce poverty and reduce inequality, they included for the first time commitments to achieve full employment and decent work for all.

“By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value” and to “protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment.”

There are many problems with the UN’s SDG goals, including the degree of corporate involvement, inadequate appreciation for public services and lack of a fundamental challenge to business-as-usual capitalist economic policies.

Despite these problems, this appears to be the first time Canada and other countries around the world have committed to achieve full employment and decent work for all. So what should this mean?

Decent work is defined by the ILO as:

“Work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.”

“Full employment” is when:

“Virtually everyone who is able and willing to work is able to find employment at prevailing wage rates.”

Full employment doesn’t mean zero employment because there will always be some “frictional unemployment” of people moving between jobs, but it translates to unemployment rates of no more than two to four per cent. Canada hasn’t had unemployment rate this low since the 1960s, when economic growth was much stronger.

What would it take to achieve full employment and decent work for all, besides stronger economic growth?

When private businesses and households aren’t investing enough in the economy to generate full employment, then governments should, through increased public investment and an expansion of public services, particularly those that generate good jobs.

A number of European countries have introduced a “youth guarantee” that provides all young people with appropriate education, training or job opportunities. This could be expanded to offer everyone, not just young workers, a “job guarantee”, where the public sector offers fixed wage employment for work of public benefit to anyone willing and able to work.

But with growing productivity, consumption and a planet that isn’t getting any bigger, the only way we can probably achieve full employment and decent work for all will be with reduced working hours, sharing available work, and increases in wages to go with it.

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