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“Job guarantee” could address biggest employment challenges of our time: UN expert

30 June 2023

GENEVA (30 JUNE 2023) – Job guarantee programmes – whereby the government guarantees a job to anyone willing and able to work – can protect workers from the biggest global employment challenges of our time, according to a new report by the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier De Schutter.

“With miserable working conditions and low pay affecting the majority of the world’s workers, and disruptions and job losses in labour markets we can expect to see from the rise of AI, it is clear that the world of work needs an urgent rethink,” De Schutter said ahead of his presentation of his report to the 53rdSession of the UN Human Rights Council.

“It is no longer enough for governments to merely try to create the right conditions for job growth,” the UN expert said. “Instead, they should guarantee a secure and socially useful job at a living wage for anyone who wants one. Properly understood, this is what the right to work is truly about.”

The International Labour Organisation puts the global jobs gap at 473 million people: 205 million unemployed and 268 million who would like to work but are not actively looking due to circumstances beyond their control such as a lack of childcare. Around two billion people, 60% of the world’s workforce, work in the informal economy, often in extremely low-paid, insecure jobs with little access to employment rights.

“For too long exploitative employers have had the upper hand, knowing workers will choose poorly-paid and insecure work over destitution,” the Special Rapporteur said. “A job guarantee would turn the tables, with workers being able to fall back on government jobs that offer decent conditions and wages.”

While job guarantee programmes in the past have tended to create jobs in infrastructure projects such as building roads or dams, De Schutter’s report highlights the alarming workforce gaps in the care, education and health sectors they could fill.

“The global employment paradox is that while there are too few decent jobs, there is certainly no shortage of work to be done,” De Schutter said. “Spurred largely by our obsession with economic growth at all costs, jobs in the care, education and health sectors are woefully undersupplied by the market despite being of immense value to society – no doubt because they don’t churn out obscene profits.”

“A job guarantee could fill the roles we so desperately need, but that the private sector has no financial incentive to provide,” the expert said.

“A job guarantee scheme should be strictly voluntary and sit alongside, not replace, social protection, as a permanent feature of the labour market,” said De Schutter.

“If designed in this way, it would play a hugely important role in wiping out unemployment, ending the race to the bottom on working conditions, and providing the income security and social inclusion millions urgently need to break free from poverty,” he said.

Read the report.

Mr. Olivier De Schutter (Belgium) has been the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights since May 2020. He was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council and is part of the Special Procedures, the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

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