THE RIGHT TO WORK
June 17, 2013 6 Comments
“It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is miserable.”
US Founding Father Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790).
From Wikipedia “The right to work is the concept that people have a human right to work, or engage in productive employment, and may not be prevented from doing so. The right to work is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law through its inclusion in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, where the right to work emphasizes economic, social and cultural development.”
For many years during my corporate life I had the opportunity and privilege to attend the annual Tallberg Forum in the village of Tallberg in Northern Sweden. The forum would pull together about 500 leaders from the worlds of commerce, politics, government, labour unions and youth representatives, as well as various thought leaders from all corners of the world, to meet, mingle and discuss issues facing the world.
From the Tallberg Foundation website “… leaders of over 70 nationalities break out of their daily lives and come together in the village of Tällberg. For five days, they talk about and reflect on global governance and the frameworks necessary for global sustainable interdependence. The Tällberg Forum makes no declarations and issues no recommendations. Its aim is to provide leaders from business, government and civil society as well as influential thought-leaders with a forum to discuss important issues in a calm and inspiring environment. The Forum’s result lies in the many initiatives and ideas that the participants bring back home and integrate in their actions as leaders.”
In the last year that I attended I was asked to take part in a panel discussion on “Globalisation and Human Rights”. The other panel members tended to focus on the impact of globalisation on some of elements in the United Nations list of about 30 human rights including the right to get an education, the right to medical care, the right to have access to clean water, the right to breathe clean air and so on.
I had taken a slightly different approach, as I had felt at the time (and do so even more strongly now) that we were tending to overlook one of the most fundamental rights that has always differentiated those with opportunities in life from those who will struggle, being the right to work.
In 1951 my family, of Polish extraction, emigrated from Europe (France) to Melbourne in Australia through the support of a refugee organisation. My parents wanted to escape the hardships in Europe after the war, and had heard that Australia was a land of opportunity with work readily available for people with skills. My father was a shoemaker and had no troubles finding a job. My mother took a job as a housekeeper for a local widowed professor, and my father worked in a shoe factory, standing at a shoe last for 10-12 hours per day, and brought piece work home for the evenings and weekends, to ensure that they could build a better life for the entire family. Initially they focussed on buying a home so as to build a stable environment, and also on educating their three children. They had real hope in their ability to build a better future life, in the belief that the role of every generation was to make life easier for the one to follow.
They had an unshakeable belief that the right to work was a privilege rather than a hardship.
I was reminded of this recently, when I was asked to speak to a group of young French university graduates on the subject of “The Global workplace”. Having spent my entire working life flitting around the world (New Zealand, Australia, USA, Singapore, Germany, France), I was invited to do this guest lecture, as being someone who had some first-hand experience with crossing national employment borders.
What I found most fascinating was that I got another reminder of the French obsession with retirement, (see “I live to work or I work to live” posted July 5, 2010), as one of the liveliest discussions that I had with this group of young people in their early twenties was their concern that based on changing global age-driven work patterns, they were most likely looking forward to actually having to work for over 40 years to a retirement age of about 70. They went even more a-twitter when I suggested that “if they were very lucky, the retirement age was more likely to be 75-80 (if there was a mandatory retirement age at all when they got to the 2060s), giving them more than 50 years of work ahead of them” (see “Why keep mandatory retirement ages” posted February 28, 2011).
The fact that young educated people in their 20s could fixate on retirement, when they were only just starting out on their careers really bothered me, as I have already worked for over 45 years, and am looking forward to working forever, if given the chance. As the wonderful comedian and wit Steven Wright says “I plan to live forever. So far so good”. I would just add “work” to his plan.
When we live in an environment in Europe where there are nearly 27 million people (11.0%) unemployed in the EU-27, with 6 million (24.0%) unemployed under the age of 25, the ability to be able to work at all (let alone having the right to work) has become a serious privilege rather than a hardship (Data from European Commission, Eurostat).
There are now some countries in the western world that have numerous and growing examples of 3 generations of unemployed in the same family. This is the single greatest destructive force of human hope that I can imagine, notwithstanding the importance of education, clean air and water, and medical care.
As said so well by the 26th President of the US, Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
I believe that all work, no matter how menial, is worth doing, and worth doing well. A professional is not measured by what he does, as much as by how he does it.