Inequalities and the World of Work

In recent decades, growing inequality in many countries has emerged as a major concern. The social and economic impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic since early 2020 has only heightened this concern and highlighted the urgent need for action.The existence of high levels of inequality means that millions of people are unable to meet their needs or those of their families

Research has suggested that high levels of inequality slow the pace of economic growth, erode democracy, social cohesion and trust, contribute to environmental degradation, have negative effects on mental and physical health, and increase the risk of social unrest and conflict.

In recent years, the debate on vertical inequalities has focused on how the richest 1 per cent or the top 10 per cent of income earners have improved their situation compared to the poorest 99 per cent or bottom 90 per cent, in many countries. 

Horizontal inequalities occur when some groups within the population find themselves disadvantaged and discriminated against on the basis of their gender, ethnicity, race, beliefs, status as migrants, among other characteristics. 

Spatial inequalities also exist between rural and urban areas and, more recently, between large mega-cities and smaller cities. 

Gender inequalities represent one of the greatest forms of inequality in the world of work today. Women and girls still perform the greatest share of unpaid care work. While women spend on average 4 hours and 25 minutes per day performing unpaid care work, men spend only 1 hour and 23 minutes on such work. Furthermore, 21.7 per cent of women perform such work on a full-time basis compared to 1.5 per cent of men.

For many people, the experience of inequality starts at birth or at a young age, with unequal opportunities in access to healthcare, literacy or quality education due to poverty, gender, family background or other factors, which later translate into fewer job opportunities and lower earnings. Many girls, in particular, face unequal opportunities and persistent gender stereotypes in their access to education and health services and in other aspects of life.

Representatives of Workers, Employers and Governments will first discuss the status and challenges of addressing these inequalities and work towards reaching consensus on the actions that should be taken to reduce both vertical and horizontal inequalities. These efforts are central to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda), which calls for full and productive employment and decent work for all and pledges that “no one will be left behind.”

(Adapted from ILO’s “Inequalities and the World of Work”)