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Decent work: How country programmes help forge a path out of poverty

New pilot programmes are the leading edge of the ILO's efforts to implement its decent work agenda at the country level. Decent Work Pilot Programmes are founded on the ILO's four strategic objectives--employment promotion, rights at work, social protection and social dialogue - integrating economic and social objectives. In Ghana, a pilot Decent Work Country Programme has shown how people can put decent work into practice, and fight poverty in the bargain.

Article | 06 July 2006

AYUMAKO, Central Ghana (ILO Online) - In the palm oil business here, being more productive is all about sharing.

"Before we used to keep knowledge for ourselves but after the training, we help each other out and we have increased the quantity of palm nuts processed", says Victoria Edith Mensah, a member of the Palm Oil and Palm Kennel Oil Association in Ayumako.

In October 2005, ten of its 15 members participated in the ILO's Small Business Association (SBA) training and were very enthusiastic about the new skills they acquired, particularly workload and account management, and organising an SBA. Learning about new ways to process palm oil as well as running a business has helped increase the women's business opportunities with quality certification, packaging and labelling of their products.

The project is part of the ILO's Ghana Decent Work Pilot Programme (GDWPP), a joint initiative of the ILO and the Government of Ghana, which aims at reducing poverty through the promotion of decent work in the informal economy. This project is among the new ILO DWCPs that are being instituted in a number of regions to apply ILO principles to improving working lives and jobs.

"The ILO experience with decent work country programmes has been very positive in putting decent work goals on top of the national policy agendas", says ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. "These experiences will usefully feed into the forthcoming High-Level Segment of ECOSOC, which has chosen to debate decent work and sustainable development as its special theme this year."

Decent work is needed in countries such as Ghana. Four out of ten Ghanaians, or 8 of the 20 million people are poor and poverty reduction has thus been declared the top national development priority.

"Although there is still work in progress, this and other similar projects proved to be a viable strategy for decentralized, pro-poor growth which is led by small enterprises assisted by national and local government in a private-public partnership", says Frans Roselaers, Director of the ILO Department of Partnerships and Development Cooperation. "It has led to improved governance and efficiency of government spending, better revenue collection, and small enterprise development benefiting poor groups, including a large proportion of women".

The International Labour Conference in June 2006 called the Ghana Decent Work Country Programme a good example for the successful implementation of an integrated ILO programme for poverty reduction. The local economic development scheme is now to be replicated in other regions of the country as part of a US$100 million youth employment programme and of the new employment policy to be implemented under the coordination of the Ministry of Manpower starting in 2006.

The ILO DWCP in Ghana for 2006-2009 will build on the work of the pilot and focus on local economic development and women's entrepreneurship to support the youth employment programme.

Overcoming decent work deficits

Whether in Ghana or other countries with pilot programmes such as the Philippines, one of the lessons being learned is that local level action is a necessary and complementary dimension to the national Decent Work Policy Agenda. Local economic and social development frameworks in the context of decentralization policies and local governance provide a real opportunity to give a practical resonance to the Decent Work Agenda closer to its beneficiaries on the ground.

According to Roselaers, promoting the ILO's Decent Work Agenda at the country level acknowledges the central role of work in people's lives and calls for a coherent set of national policies that offer better prospects for personal development and social integration, economic and social progress.

"Social dialogue and tripartite consultations play a crucial role in determining the focus of the Decent Work Agenda in the country. This process has produced concrete goals relevant to specific national policy priorities such as poverty reduction in Ghana, industrial restructuring of the textiles and garment sector in Morocco, national responses to globalization in Bangladesh, local development in the Philippines, democratization and its related reform agenda in Bahrain, an integrated approach to social protection in Kazakhstan and labour market reform in Panama", he says.

Another important aspect is that the country programmes have gained significant levels of acceptance, visibility and support, usually at the highest levels of the political spectrum. They provide the ministries of labour with an opportunity and a platform to engage in policy debate of high-level economic and social goals, beyond their specific functional mandates.

What's more, the added value of the DWCP has been to generate a consensus between government, workers and employers in the country on national policies and action plans. In Panama, for example, policy dialogue resulted in the initiation of a US$200 million employment-intensive infrastructure programme and in an agreement on the basket of goods to be used as the basis for determining the minimum wage.

In Ghana, it resulted in the inclusion of the promotion of informal economy micro- and small enterprises in the national poverty reduction strategy. In Morocco, the social partners adopted a tripartite National Action Plan to boost the textiles and garment industry's competitiveness through the promotion of decent work. The ILO is supporting the implementation of this National Action Plan, which has received financial support from the Government of Spain since June 2005.

Finally, the interaction between the national and international development agendas is a recurring theme in discussions between government, employers and workers on poverty reduction in Ghana and Indonesia, policy debates to face up to globalization in Bangladesh or for the restructuring of export industries in Morocco and Philippines.

For more detailed information, see www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/dwpp

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