There have been many theories and countless myths about the economic costs of providing good working conditions around the world This despite the fact that we have had little data to compare costs and related benefits across different countries. Working with a team of international researchers, Jody Heyman (and coauthor Alison Earle) of Raising the Global Floor, worked to fix that. The book compares data from 190 countries, finally giving us a comprehensive look at working conditions around the globe. In recent interviews with ZÓcalo and the Diane Rehm show, Heymann uses her research to answer previously unanswerable questions, most importantly: What can we do to make a global floor possible?
Previous theories about good working conditions have held that providing benefits in the workplace puts an upward pressure on prices and can be bad for a company’s, or a nation’s, competitiveness leading to an increase in unemployment. According to Heymann, “It turns out they’re just not factually true.” She found that most countries actually do provide basic benefits like sick leave, including 14 of the 15 most competitive countries (all except the U.S.) However, many developing countries are behind, and even some of the world’s top competitors, like the U.S., have neglected to provide very basic needs to workers.
On the Diane Rehm Show, Heymann mentioned that one reason for the rapid spread of the H1N1 flu in the U.S. early last year may have been that in the absence of sick leave people continued to work even though they were sick, allowing the disease to spread quickly. Over 60 million Americans are currently without paid sick leave, according to Heymann, making the U.S. extremely behind other top competitive economies countries in that respect.
Overall, the research in the book supports the fact that the countries that flourish the most have provided workers with at least some benefits, (excluding the U.S.) Though our own country seems to be lagging in this respect, Heymann is optimistic about our future. When identifying what kinds of conditions would be needed for a global floor, Heymann makes it clear that things like paid sick leave for all, and annual family leave are beneficial for both workers and businesses.
So, is a global floor what we need for a better economy? Perhaps, according to Heymann’s findings, “the answer is yes.”