Conor Cradden 1st June 2018

The latest draft of the World Bank’s working draft of its 2019 World Development Report (‘The Changing Nature of Work’) was posted on the 25th of May. Thankfully some of the worst of the errors and distortions in the April 20th draft have been abandoned. I have no idea if they were dropped in response to my post criticising the earlier draft, but I reckon I’m going to claim the credit anyway. Go me! Unfortunately many of the other problems remain. The overall anti-regulatory thrust of the paper certainly has not changed one iota.

The authors would probably argue that they’re arguing for deregulation of business at the same time as the development of enhanced social protections systems but really, who are they trying to kid? They’re telling employers exactly what they want to hear, which is that it’s not up to employers to be fair. They just do what the market says and the state will take up the slack. This not only ignores the very low likelihood that states can or will step in, but also the enormous benefit—to workers, businesses and society as a whole—of involving workers in decision-making at work.

What’s gone?

The May 25th draft drops the claim that “Technology adoption is negatively associated with the strictness of labor regulations”. In the earlier version this was referenced to a paper that actually found that the association between regulation and technology use varied with the type of regulation. High minimum wages were positively associated with digital technology use.

Also dropped is the reference to France’s requirement for businesses with more than 49 employees to have a joint safety and health committee. In the earlier draft this was given as an example of ‘burdensome’ regulation in the context of a claim that ‘business-friendly’ regulation is associated with lower levels of poverty. The latter claim remains, but we are at least not being asked to accept that a requirement for employers to talk to workers about how to improve safety is a burdensome regulation.

The incorrect claim that “labor regulations apply only to formal work” has been replaced with “most governments are unable to regulate a substantial part of the economy” (para 337 of May 25th draft). On the other hand, the equally incorrect claim that labour regulations “cover few, only formal workers whose labor is observed, regulated and taxed by the state” is left unchanged.

Finally, the ludicrous argument that there is a need to ‘level the playfield’ in favour of businesses is gone. We should be thankful for small mercies I suppose, but the claim that minimum wages and the regulation of firing are economically damaging remains unchanged.

What’s still there?

The May 25th draft maintains its bizarre attempt to argue that we have Napoleon to blame for burdensome and ‘ill fitting’ labour regulation in emerging economies. It still tries to argue that pension schemes jointly funded by workers and employers are economically counterproductive on the basis of a single paper that also reports evidence that the introduction of this type of pension in Ethiopia has had significant positive effects. It still tries to argue that ‘heavier’ regulations are a cause of informal employment on the basis of one out-of-date comparative report that looked only at the procedural aspects of starting a business.

Where to now?

The draft report is still a work in progress, but none of the changes made since the April 20th draft have made any real difference—it is still a shoddy and potentially dangerous piece of work. At this stage there seems little prospect of it being significantly improved. I’ve heard people in other international organizations express shock and bemusement that the Bank could release such an embarassingly bad paper as a flagship report. The tragedy of it is that it would be really useful to have a serious and properly informed discussion about the topics that it raises. It is long past time that we talked about the balance between the resposibilities of the state, of businesses, of trade unions and of individuals. There is an obvious need to think critically about existing models, particularly about how to make labour rights effective for non-standard and informal sector workers. But WDR2019 is not shaping up to be a useful contribution to that discussion.


New Unionism says: In the UK the issue of the blacklisting of workers with union links, particularly in the construction sector, has been in the news on and off for most of the last twenty years. In 2009, public data protection agency the Information Commissioner’s Office closed down a group called The Consulting Association on the grounds that it was illegally collecting and selling information about construction workers. The Consulting Association was founded and run by a group of major construction companies and it was these companies that were paying for its ‘employee vetting’ services – services which in reality were about ensuring that workers with a history of union involvement or whistleblowing on health and safety breaches were not taken on at any construction site. Although these companies have apologised for their involvement with the Consulting Association, they have not admitted any liability and remain eligible for public contracts. Despite a recent parliamentary report calling for further action to be taken against businesses involved in blacklisting, the government is resisting calls for a public enquiry. Now the Chartered Institue of Personnel and Development, the professional association representing human resource and personnel managers, appears to be attempting to minimise the damage that blacklisting causes, prompting a robust response from the chair of the UK’s respected public industrial arbitration and conciliation service ACAS. Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group reports. (more…)

The Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO), currently meeting in Geneva, appears to heading towards asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to settle the row sparked by the ILO employers’ representatives claim that the right to strike is not protected by existing ILO conventions. (This previous post explains the background to the argument.) At this stage the Governing Body has still to make its final decision, but the publication last week of a ‘revised draft decision‘ that proposes to ask the ICJ to intervene suggests that workers’ representatives are winning the argument. The workers have been pressing for the referral of the question to the Court rather than the alternative solution, the establishment of a new internal dispute resolution tribunal. If the GB finally confirms the reference of the matter to the ICJ — and given the publication of the revised draft decision it looks almost certain — it would be a first for the ILO. While international bureaucracy nerds, especially those who have read this background document, might point out that the ILO referred 6 cases to the ICJ’s pre-second world war predecessor court, the last time this happened was in 1932 and in any case only one of those six references was on the interpretation of an ILO convention. While there’s no guarantee that the ICJ’s decision will be what workers’ representatives want, according to the ITUC the legal arguments that the right to strike is indeed enshrined in international law are pretty strong. Watch this space.

The next time you have a members’ meeting, why not try running it according to the principles of “participative democracy”? (details). This approach seeks to encourage input from the largest possible number of people. It is not new — in fact it probably predates “representative democracy” — but it has received a lot of publicity lately because of its use (through sign language) in the “general assemblies” of the Occupy movement. (more…)

Organizing, yes, but for what? Network member, author, organizer, activist, and historian  Richard Moser presents an intriguing summary of the current state of work and unionism in the U.S.. He argues that unions have tended towards an organizational culture which is resistant to change and unaccustomed to democracy. He traces the evolution of this process, mapping it against changes in work and society. Unions must develop a culture of organizing if they are to renew their influence and reconnect with their members. He then presents some recommendations on organizing, exploring the contradictory but creative tensions that animate union activity. These are the challenges faced by those who want to put the movement back into labor. (more…)

The New Unionists of the late 19th century built trade unions as we know them by organizing the proletariat – the working class of the day. Similarly, today’s new unionists are beginning to organize the precariat – workers without security. To say this latter group represents the most rapidly growing sector in society entirely misses the point. The labour force has fundamentally changed. And according to many labour analysts, the real jolt is still to come:

“Most of the full-time jobs lost in this recession won’t come back. Most of the employees laid off in the past year won’t find permanent work. When the statistics catch up to the reality, people will be forced to confront the new normal.” [i] (more…)

sidewikiGoogle’s SideWiki is a great new tool which allows you (yes, you) to add your thoughts to somebody else’s website. Your comments can then be viewed by anybody who has the Google toolbar, ie tens of millions of people, and rising fast. We’ve tested it by adding comments to Wal-Mart, Wikipedia and BBC news pages. There’s also one on this page; you’ll see a little tab symbol top left of the screen if you have the toolbar installed. Although there were a few delays before some of our comments appeared, they all got there in the end. One can just imagine some of the uses this technology will have, particularly where people’s patience has been eroded by spin doctors hiding the truth regarding abuses of corporate social responsibility. In effect, we suddenly have the ability to slip a leaflet into the company’s annual report.


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