Transforming cities for decent work

Seoul (R. Korea) – In the fight against socioeconomic injustice, cities have a decisive political responsibility and the Seoul Declaration on Decent Work City holds the answer how they can embrace it.

Urban spaces are becoming increasingly the showroom for growing social inequality. With half of the world’s population living in cities, and the numbers further on the rise, the competitive pressure on the urban labour and housing markets are increasing.

Living space in cities is scarce and more commonly becoming the object of investment speculation, putting rents in many places out of the financial reach of many, including skilled youth. At risk are particularly less qualified workers, especially from the informal labour sector, often without social safeguards, and wages barely at the subsistence level.

Almost nowhere else is the growing social inequality demonstrated as impressively as between the glass façades of urban skylines and the poverty-stricken neighbourhoods located on the outskirts of modern large cities.

The shaping of political conditions for decent work must become also the cornerstone of sustainable urban policy

The concept of the urban living space as a central site of social cooperation, a space chiefly geared to the needs of its inhabitants and not primarily shaped by large-scale investors, was the basic assumption behind the "Seoul International Forum – Transforming Cities for Decent Work" held 5-6 September in the Republic of Korea.

The forum, organized on the invitation of Seoul’s mayor Park Won Soon in cooperation with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the International Labour Organization (ILO), featured international experts who tackled the question why the shaping of political conditions for decent work must become also the cornerstone of sustainable urban policy.

Participants at the Forum called on the responsibility of all cities to jointly combat the global phenomenon of social inequality, placing the importance of fair and decent working conditions at the centre of the analysis, as a crucial area of ​​action for sustainable urban policy. In areas where state policy is insufficient to affect the concrete realities of citizens' lives, the responsibilities of municipal urban policy must be strengthened and cities ought to embrace the decisive political responsibility in the fight against socioeconomic injustice.

To this end, the Forum adopted the Seoul Declaration on Decent Work City, a recommendation for action towards sustainable cities found on five key pillars:

  1. Ratification of the ILO strategy to strengthen "decent work" in cities;
  2. Obligation to guarantee the right to education for workers' representatives and the right to collective bargaining;
  3. Education and promotion of a global "Decent Work City Network";
  4. Commitment by the city of Seoul to be a model for socially conscious employers;
  5. Obligation to deal with questions about the future of work.

      "Any contribution that strives for a new and more sustainable labour market policy, regardless of the level of political responsibility, is a welcome contribution from the government's point of view," said Ms Kim Young-joo, Korea’s new labour minister, on the occasion of the Forum.

      She also expressed the hope that the successful Seoul initiative would encourage mayors around the world to advocate even more firmly for fair and decent working conditions in their cities and to become more aware of the political scope of action available to them.

      The challenge now remains to ensure the city of Seoul combines the declaration with specific political measures and for as many cities around the world to take Seoul's commitment as a model by adopting the Declaration on Decent Work City. Its ratification will be essential to kick-start international exchange of experiences under a prospective network of "Decent Work Cities".

      “With its worldwide network of offices in major cities, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung would like to make an active contribution to this cause, particularly the exchange of ideas with the initiators from Seoul,” stated Sven Schwersensky, resident director of FES in the Republic of Korea. “We also hope to advise and connect interested city governments around the world as they develop new approaches to just labour markets and social policy.” ###

      Translated from the German, the text was adapted for style. For more information on the work by FES in Republic of Korea and the Seoul Declaration on Decent Work City contact the resident director of FES in Seoul, Sven Schwersensky.

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