The Facts


new internationalist
issue 239 - January 1993


Illustration by CLIVE OFFLEY

Say 'worker' and what picture springs to mind?
Men like miners in dungarees and hard hats?
Production lines and construction sites?
Chances are the people who do most of the world's
work don't look much like what you imagine.

Female FEMALE1
When housework is taken into account, women work longer hours than men everywhere - except in North America and Australia.

Women and men's total worktime (inc housework) 1990

Rural RURAL2
Nearly half the work in the world is done to produce and prepare food, in agriculture. Most people in 'industrial' countries don't work in industry but in offices and services like health, education and transport.

Percentage of labour force in agriculture, industry and services (1986-89)

Young YOUNG3
Millions of the world's children provide cheap labour - and can't answer back:

. As much as 11 per cent of the labour force in parts of Asia is made up of child labourers.

. Brazil has seven million working children aged under 16 out of a total child population of 55 million.

. Millions of European children work on farms and in factories.

. Several million children in South Asia are enslaved in bonded labour.

Poor POOR2
The richest 20 per cent of the world's population receive 82.7 per cent of total annual income.

The remaining 80 per cent would have to work 20 years - and the poorest 20 per cent 140 years - to earn the same amount. And the gap is getting wider as the rich get richer and the poor poorer.

Global income disparity (1960-89)

Mobile MOBILE3
The money migrant workers send home is becoming increasingly important to many poorer countries.

For the most part they do the '3Ds': 'dirty, dangerous or difficult' jobs that local workers don't want to touch. But skilled labour is also draining from poor countries to richer ones: skilled workers as a proportion of all migrants to the US increased from 44.7 per cent in 1966 to 75.1 per cent in 1986.

Remittances as % of export earnings

Insecure INSECURE3
To live in a city you need to have a job, but millions can't find one and millions more who've got one live in fear of losing it:

. The overall unemployment rate in industrial countries was estimated at 7.1 per cent of the workforce in 1992 and is rising.

. In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union it could reach 15 or 20 per cent.

. Half or more of all new employment in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Spain in the 1980s was for workers on part-time or short-term contracts.

. Urban unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa stands at 18 per cent and could rise to 31 per cent by the end of the decade.

. In Africa, unemployment rates are often higher for those with education than for those without.

Isolated ISOLATED3
The workers of the world are becoming less united. Trade union membership has fallen in most industrial countries. Elsewhere people fear recrimination if they join. But in a few Asian countries trade union membership has been rising sharply.

. Trade-union membership in industrial countries dropped from 37 per cent of the workforce in 1975 to 28 per cent in 1988.

. Between 1987 and 1989 trade-union membership increased in the Philippines by 38 per cent, in Bangladesh by 27 per cent and in Thailand by 13 per cent.

. Since 1986 over 300 trade unionists have been killed in Colombia as a result of the influence of drug cartels.

. After the June 1989 coup in Sudan trade unions were dissolved and their leaders imprisoned.

1 The World's Women 1970 to 1990, United Nations.
2 Human Development Report 1992, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
3 World Labour Report 1992, International Labour Office, Geneva.

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