Image source: FES Regional Office for International Cooperation, Vienna. - Photo: 2023

Widening Inequalities in Economic & Social Lives Continue Worldwide

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, 1 May 2023 (IDN) — Speaking during the launch of the Special Edition of the SDG Progress Report, UN Secretary-General António Guterres struck a note of pessimism when he warned that most of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will miss their targets by the 2030 deadline.

“Halfway to the deadline for the 2030 Agenda, we are leaving more than half the world behind,” he said, addressing the General Assembly on April 25.

The SDG Progress Report shows that just 12 percent of the Sustainable Development Goal targets are on track. “Progress on 50 percent is weak and insufficient”.

“Worst of all, we have stalled or gone into reverse on more than 30 percent of the SDGs. Unless we act now, the 2030 Agenda will become an epitaph for a world that might have been”, Guterres declared.

The key SDGs include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, the achievement of gender empowerment, the battle against the negative fallout from climate change and the widening gap in inequalities in economic and social lives worldwide.

A new analysis from Oxfam International, released ahead of International Workers’ Day May 1, points out the stark inequalities in the workplace.

One billion workers in 50 countries took an average pay cut of $685 in 2022, a collective loss of $746 billion in real wages, compared to if wages had kept up with inflation.

Women and girls are putting in at least 380 billion hours of unpaid care work every month. Women workers often have to work reduced paid hours or drop out of the workforce altogether because of their unpaid care workload.

They also continue to face gender-based discrimination, harassment, and less pay for work of equal value as men, according to the study.

Meanwhile, the top-paid CEOs across four countries enjoyed a 9 percent pay hike in 2022, while workers’ wages fell 3.19 percent during the same period.

Workers on average worked six days “for free” last year because their wages lagged behind inflation—while real pay for top executives in India, the UK, US and South Africa jumped 9 percent (16 percent if not adjusted for inflation).

“Women and girls are putting in 4.6 trillion hours of unpaid care work every year. Shareholders saw record payouts of $1.56 trillion in 2022, a 10 percent real-term increase compared to 2021.”

Oxfam is calling for a permanent increase in taxes on the richest 1.0 percent.

Governments must step in and introduce top rates of tax of at least 75 percent on corporate bosses to discourage sky-high executive pay, and windfall taxes on excessive corporate profits.

Alex Maitland, Oxfam International’s Inequality Policy Advisor, told IDN “CEOs are too often rewarded for keeping salaries low and profits high. This was supercharged in 2022, with record profits and skyrocketing executive pay. The cost-of-living crisis is widening inequalities as everyone suffers but the very richest”.

“If companies focused more on giving workers a fair deal, rather than lining the pockets of bosses and rich shareholders, it would help make the world more equal,” Maitland declared.

Governments, he pointed out, must step in and introduce top rates of tax of at least 75 percent on corporate bosses to discourage sky-high executive pay, and windfall taxes on excessive corporate profits.

The Oxfam figures, adjusted for inflation, are based on the latest data from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and government statistics agencies.

“While corporate bosses are telling us we need to keep wages down, they’re giving themselves and their shareholders massive payouts. Most people are working longer for less and can’t keep up with the cost of living,” said Oxfam International’s interim Executive Director Amitabh Behar.

“Years of austerity and attacks on trade unions have widened the gap between the richest and the rest of us. On a day meant to celebrate the working class, this glaring inequality is both shocking and sadly unsurprising,”

“The only rise workers have seen is that of unpaid care work, with women shouldering the responsibility,” Behar said. “This incredibly hard and valuable work is done for free at home and in the community.”

At 10.2 percent (equivalent to 19 unpaid working days), the average Swedish worker suffered one of the biggest real-term pay cuts over the last year. Brazilian workers’ real wages fell 6.9 percent (15 unpaid working days), while in the US and the UK, the average worker took a real-terms pay cut of 3.2 percent (6.7 unpaid working days) and 2.5 percent (5 unpaid working days), respectively.

Big business chiefs however are thriving. Oxfam’s analysis of corporate and survey data for 2022 found that:

Meanwhile, 150 of the top-paid executives in India received $1 million on average last year, a real-term pay rise of 2 percent since 2021. A single Indian executive makes in just four hours more than an average worker earns in a year.

Also, 100 of the highest-paid CEOs in the US made $24 million on average in 2022, a real-term pay hike of 15 percent from the previous year. The average worker in the US would have to work for 413 years to match what a top-paid CEO makes in 12 months. 50 percent of women of color in the US make less than $15 an hour.

The UK’s 100 best-paid CEOs were paid $5 million on average in 2022, and received a 4.4 percent real-term pay hike. They earn 140 times more than the average worker in the UK.

Top-paid chief executives in South Africa made $800,000 on average in 2022, 43 times the pay of the average worker. Their real-term pay rose 13 percent last year.

According to a Cable News Network (CNN) report April 25, a growing list of companies are announcing layoffs this year amid concerns about economic uncertainty, as well as the need to cut back after going on a hiring spree during the pandemic.

Disney, BuzzFeed, Lyft and Deloitte are among the list of major companies that have reduced their workforces this year. The tech sector has also been hit hard over the past few months following mass layoffs in 2022. Amazon, Meta, Microsoft and Paypal have also axed thousands of people—nnd warned additional cuts may be on the way.

This comes as first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose to 245,000 last week, above expectations of 240,000, according to data from the Department of Labor, CNN said.

Employers also added just 236,000 jobs in March, falling below expectations and signaling that the Federal Reserve’s yearlong rate-hiking campaign to chill inflation is now also cooling the labor market.

The Dublin-based Eurofound, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, in partnership with the European Training Foundation (ETF), has launched a new online survey which aims to document living and working conditions in Europe and the evolving concerns of citizens amidst the cost-of-living crisis, the war in Ukraine, and the broader post-COVID-19 context.

The survey, entitled Living and working in the EU and neighbouring countries, builds upon other online surveys carried out by Eurofound over the past three years.

This survey, available in 33 languages and open to all citizens over the age of 16, asks specific questions on perceptions of quality of life and quality of society, as well as working situation, and housing and finances.

It also includes questions aimed at younger citizens in order to document how they are adapting to a rapidly changing Europe. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Image source: FES Regional Office for International Cooperation, Vienna.

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