WRONG ON RIGHTS
Aided by governments, companies push risks onto workers.
Precarious work is increasing all over the world. While the impact may be different depending on the social and economic conditions of the country, the goal of employers remains the same: cheap, flexible labour that can be brought in and dropped at will.
In fact, many big brand companies exist just to make money, not products. These companies that once provided good and secure jobs, are less and less likely to employ workers. Instead, an invisible army of sub-contractors produce "their" products. The bulk of electronic products are manufactured by companies that supply many of the big brands. Employing mainly young women workers on precarious conditions enables these companies to save their client brands as much as 75 per cent on labour costs.
Companies want to adapt quickly to changing market conditions, so when a company finds a better deal with a cheaper contractor, or when it discontinues a product line supplied by that factory, it is easy to dispose of the excess workers.
Everything from cars to computers is made up of parts produced by multiple companies. Competition drives down costs relentlessly. For transnational companies, labour is just another component.
But even the most powerful global businesses would not have been able to do this without help, and it has come from governments and international institutions.
In the name of "flexibility", one government after another has scrapped or weakened laws that protect workers. That induces others to do the same, or become "uncompetitive" and risk losing investment.
Even where the balance of political or industrial forces has prevented governments from weakening labour laws, often employment protection is not enforced, either across the whole country or in "export processing zones" or "free trade zones", where governments attract investment by guaranteeing low pay, high flexibility and an absence of unions.
And in case governments don't do it of their own accord, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank impose weaker labour and social protection by making their loans conditional on increasing labour market flexibility.
Add in the World Trade Organization, whose most powerful member countries refuse to accept that labour standards are a legitimate form of protection, and you get a world economy built on less social welfare, fewer rights at work, and no security at all.
The rise of precarious employment has been assisted by the decline of labour market regulation, driven by institutions such as the World Bank.
Every year, the World Bank produces a report called Doing Business, which ranks countries according to how easy it is to set up a business - and to close it down and fire its workers.
In 2007, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia came fourth and won special praise for extending to four years the time a worker can be on temporary contracts without securing employment protection.
Macedonian trade unions opposed the changes in the law arguing that no consideration was given to the long-term negative effects on workers and society in general.
While aimed at increasing employment, the law has made many of Macedonia's workers among the most precariously employed in Europe.
And the promised benefits of liberalisation were not obtained as the level of foreign investment in Macedonia remains the lowest in the region.Jul 10, 2008 – Cherisse Fredricks
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