Durban, 26 September 2023
Programme DirectorThe International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
The Southern African Trade Union Coordination Council (SATUCC)
The East African Trade Union Confederation (EATUC)
The Organisation of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA)
The Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU)
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)
The Congress of Trade Unions – Kenya (COTU-K)
Comrades of the BRICS Trade Union Forum
Ladies and gentlemen,
As we convene here today in our beautiful City of eThekwini, let us evoke the timeless rallying cry of workers across the annals of history. The resounding call, "Workers of the world, unite!" has echoed through the ages, from the factories of the Industrial Revolution to the fields of the struggle against apartheid. Workers of the world must unite in a resolute and unyielding alliance to confront and mitigate the pernicious impacts of unchecked capitalism and the stranglehold of neoliberalism. These twin forces, left unchecked, are exacting an increasingly grievous toll upon the conditions of both workers and the communities that depend on their well-being. Capitalism, in its unbridled pursuit of profit, has too often prioritized the primitive accumulation of wealth at the expense of the very workforce that propels it forward.
French economist Thomas Piketty argues that capitalism and market forces “are very powerful in producing wealth and innovation”. A point that was also raised by his colleague Joseph Schumpeter decades earlier. However, Piketty rightfully asserts that “we need to ensure that these forces act in the common interest”. Capitalism has, in many instances, perpetuated a stark and growing chasm of economic inequality, depriving the toiling masses of the fair fruits of their labour. The rapacious nature of uncontrolled capitalism perpetuates a cycle of exploitation, where the rich grow richer while the majority bear the burdens of stagnant wages, job insecurity, and diminished social support. In tandem, neoliberalism, with its creed of minimal state intervention and privatization, has eroded the safeguards and social safety nets that are essential to protecting the rights and livelihoods of workers. The erosion of labour rights, the dismantling of social protection systems, and the blind pursuit of market-driven policies have resulted in a precarious existence for countless workers, who find themselves adrift in the unforgiving tides of the global economy. These harmful impacts extend beyond the workplace and reverberate through communities burdened by the ripple effects of labour exploitation and economic inequality. Families struggle to make ends meet, access to quality healthcare and education becomes a distant dream for many, and the very social fabric that binds communities together is frayed by the pervasive influence of unbridled capitalism and neoliberal ideology.
Comrades, nestled within the broader context of the BRICS Labour and Employment sectoral meetings that also begin this morning, the BRICS Trade Union Forum emerges as a steadfast beacon of hope in the midst of these turbulent times. As workers hailing from our diverse BRICS nations, you stand united under the resounding banner of 'Advancing Social Justice, Peace, and Dignity Together!' This theme serves as a powerful testament to your unwavering dedication to forging a world characterised by the safeguarding of workers' rights and dignity, where industrial peace and social justice prevail – the one dependent on the other.
It is heartening to see this theme align with the mission of the BRICS Labour and Employment Ministers’ Meeting, which is ‘Ensuring decent work, dignity and respect for all’. With this theme, our goal is clear. We wish to address the common labour and employment challenges facing our BRICS Countries and to promote cooperation for shared prosperity. The world is changing, and the labour and employment sectoral meetings come on the heels of the BRICS Leaders' Summit, which welcomed new members to our partnership. Starting from January 2024, Argentina, Egypt, Iran, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates will be part of our grouping. In our view, this expansion is a recognition of the BRICS Countries' growing influence and importance on the world stage. And, as BRICS Ministers of Labour and Employment, we are ready to collaborate with these new members on a wide range of issues, from labour markets to inclusive growth. Nevertheless, the BRICS Ministers of Labour and Employment have identified four pivotal areas of focus for this year, with the aspiration that these priorities shall endure beyond the current period. The draft Declaration, which is currently being finalised as we speak, shall serve as our collective commitment to these critical goals.
The first priority concerns building sustainable enterprises, innovation, and enhancing productivity. We must create an environment where businesses thrive, and workers benefit from increased productivity.
Secondly, we aim to vigorously champion and advance labour rights within the workplace while simultaneously diminishing the lamentable deficits in the realm of decent work. Therefore, workers' rights are non-negotiable, and we must work to eliminate any deficits in decent work. Thirdly, we steadfastly commit ourselves to the imperative task of ensuring universal access to comprehensive social protection, accompanied by the essential assurance of a minimum basic income grant for all. We more than believe that access to social protection is a fundamental human right. Through this endeavour, we also resolutely uphold the principle that no one should be left behind in the march toward a more just and compassionate world.
Lastly, our collective commitment extends to the critical mission of fostering and propagating decent work opportunities while simultaneously bridging the substantial skills gap that pervades the informal economy. In this multifaceted endeavour, we wholeheartedly acknowledge and underscore the indispensable role that the informal economy plays within the broader economic landscape of BRICS Countries. To this end, we are determined to provide the comprehensive support and protection that workers in the informal economy so rightfully deserve. Our commitment goes beyond these discussions and, therefore, extends to promoting employment for sustainable development. We are dedicated to developing skills that will fuel a resilient recovery, fostering gender-responsive employment and implementing social protection policies that safeguard workers' rights. We must respect, promote and realise Decent Work for all and achieve social justice.
Our commitment also extends to abolishing child labour and accelerating progress toward universal social protection for all by 2030. We further recognise the importance of investing in skills development systems to improve access to relevant and quality skills for workers in the informal economy and new forms of employment. This is essential for creating economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable and inclusive economies.
In the XV (15th) BRICS Summit Declaration, our leaders implored the labour and employment ministers to explore the development of a BRICS platform to implement the Productivity Ecosystem for Decent Work, an innovative and comprehensive framework designed to catalyse transformative change within our labour markets. In short, the Productivity Ecosystem for Decent Work encapsulates a holistic approach, seamlessly integrating labour policies, technological advancements, skills development, and social protections into a harmonious whole. This visionary framework envisions an ecosystem where workers are not merely beneficiaries but active participants in the creation of a just and equitable labour landscape. But, comrades, we cannot achieve all these goals in isolation. We must recognise the importance of unity, both within our BRICS partnership and also together with social partners. Within the sphere of our BRICS partnership, unity is not a mere aspiration but the bedrock upon which our collective strength stands. It is the very essence of our power to shape the course of global affairs, to advocate for the rights of workers and to propel our shared vision of a more equitable world. When we stand united, our voices resonate with unparalleled vigour and our influence knows no bounds. Yet, let us not confine this unity solely to the boundaries of our partnership. Let us extend our hand in solidarity with our social partners, those who walk alongside us in the noble pursuit of justice and progress. These partners, representing the diverse tapestry of our societies, offer invaluable insights and unwavering support in our mission to uplift workers and communities. In this symphony of unity, we find the strength to advance positions that are not only beneficial to our BRICS Countries but are also emblematic of our collective commitment to a brighter future. Unity is the crucible in which our aspirations are forged into actions, where solidarity becomes the driving force behind transformative change.
Let the resonance of this message echo in our hearts and guide our every endeavour. For it is unity, both within our BRICS partnership and in harmony with our social partners, that will be the beacon illuminating our path towards a world where the rights and dignity of workers are celebrated, where justice prevails, and where the promise of prosperity knows no bounds. Let us forge this close relationship, let us fortify the bonds of unity, and let us, together, rise as an indomitable force for change, carrying the torch of progress into the future.
In unity, we find our strength. In unity, we shall triumph!
In closing, let us remember the words of Karl Marx: "Workers of the World Unite. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win."
Comrades, it is time to unite, to stand together in solidarity, and to forge a world where justice, peace, and dignity are the birthright of every worker.
Workers of the BRICS Countries must unite in solidarity as we pursue the common cause!
Thank you, and may the spirit of unity guide our path forward.