Plenary speech Wayne Prins at the 112th Session of the International Labour Conference

Thank you Chair, Director General, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Human flourishing can take many forms. Yet, one of the hallmarks of a thriving society is the ability, the willingness, and the imperative to care for the vulnerable. From childcare to elder care, from support services to education to healthcare, care workers are essential to meeting the physical and psychological needs of people of all ages. We depend on them to sustain human, social, and economic development on every level.

ILO’s publication Decent Work and the Care Economy reports that “the care economy constitutes 381 million jobs globally—about 11.5 per cent of total employment.” In healthcare, 70 percent of paid care work is performed by women.

Yet much too often, care workers—those who dedicate their lives and careers to caring for others—are vulnerable themselves. They are underpaid, overextended, and overwhelmed.

Too often they do not have enough hands or enough resources.
Too often they are victims of workplace violence.
Too often they cannot adequately provide for themselves or their families.
Too often they do not receive the gratitude they deserve for caring for us, our children, or our parents.

As president of the World Organisation of Workers, I submit to you that we must do better. We can do better.

Exacerbating the plight of those working in the care economy is the problem of systemic labour shortages. This growing global concern is experienced by almost all developed economies. It’s leading to profound challenges for workers and employers in all economic sectors, but it is felt most acutely by workers in the care economy—as the COVID-19 pandemic brought tragically to the forefront.

The main contributing factors to systemic labour shortages are aging populations, the creation of more jobs through economic growth, insufficient domestic birthrates in industrialized countries to fill new positions and replace retiring workers, and the devaluing of care work. Solutions include immigration to bring in new workers, optimizing the available workforce through greater participation and improved productivity, leveraging technology to assist with human labour, and training new workers to join the workforce.

WOW and its member affiliates represent some 1.3 million workers worldwide, hundreds of thousands of whom work in the care economy, primarily in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The realities care workers face around the globe are not all the same. And the solutions will need to be different too. That’s why your wisdom as worker representatives is so important.

As leaders in the field of labour, we are uniquely placed to offer solutions to improve the lives of those working in the care economy around the world.

Working together, we can use our collective voice to advocate for policies and practices that make it easier for women to have both families of their own and rewarding careers.

We can encourage governments to provide adequate resources for front-line caregivers, who often bear the brunt of worker shortages while being paid the least.

We can encourage the participation of more men in the care economy, in both paid and unpaid care.

We can facilitate the training and education of care workers to ensure they are equipped with in-demand skills.

We can insist that care workers have a seat at the table when governments grapple with issues that affect them.

We can advocate for labour policies that allow for better representation and easier access to collective bargaining.

We can increase public awareness and support for the indispensable contributions care workers make to the well-being of all.

I come to you not with despair but to share hope and to encourage you all in the work to be done to improve the lives of those working in the care economy. We have the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to speak to their challenges and provide solutions.

Regardless of our differences, we have much that brings us together, most importantly our continued focus on the dignity of every worker and the pursuit of decent work for all.

This is our noble calling and purpose. And it is this pursuit that keeps us motivated in our efforts to help not only care workers, but workers everywhere to do safe, meaningful work and to provide for themselves and their families.

Thank you.

112th Session of the International Labour Conference
Plenary presentation by Wayne Prins, President, World Organisation of Workers (WOW)
Geneva, Switzerland
June 2024

About WOW

WOW was founded as a Social Christian trade union and finds inspiration in the spiritual believe that man and universe were created by God or by persuasions coinciding with that. The increase of intercultural contacts provided opportunities for the WOW to expand and broaden its view with visions of other religious backgrounds. WOW does so in a joint attempt to build a world community based on freedom, dignity, justice and solidarity.

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