Back to Basics – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Employment
Recently, and rather surprisingly, I came across a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights whilst staying in a hotel in Madrid. I remember when Bibles were left in the drawers of bedside tables, but this hotel chose to leave a copy of the Declaration for its guests to read. A rather noble idea I think as now it is more often glossy magazines advertising luxury goods.
As an employment lawyer the following provisions caught my eye:
- Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
- Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
- Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
- Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
- Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
- Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
Of course, there is a lot I could say about all of these aspirations and ideals and how we are currently succeeding or failing to live up to them in the UK, but what struck me the most are the parts I have highlighted. As we continue to face a cost-of-living crisis that seems to show little sign of abating I wonder how we can achieve fairness in terms of a dignified level of pay. Almost 30% of children are now living in poverty in the UK (4.2 million). Increasing numbers of working people are homeless. In 2022 the number increased by 22%. How can it be that people in the UK are working full time but unable to provide shelter for themselves and their families? The national minimum wage and even the living wage are failing to provide for what is needed to pay for basic needs.
The scale of economic inequality in the UK is very high compared to other developed nations and is increasing. In 2022 the top 10% of earners in the UK hold 43% of the wealth. The richest fifth had an income more than 12 times the amount earned by the poorest fifth. Incomes for the poorest 14 million people fell by 7.5%, whilst incomes for the richest fifth saw a 7.8% increase. For the whole world, the top 1% earn 20% of the total income.
The pandemic appears to have exacerbated pre-existing inequalities and caused retrogression in terms of other equality measures, but a basic level of income for ones work is surely the very underpinning of a civilised society.
Perhaps those in power should go back to basics, read the Declaration and remind themselves of the core fundamental right to work and pay which allows for a dignified existence.