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Labour-based technologies

Road construction Construction of a drinking water system Gravel road rehabilitation

The term labour-based technology is used to describe a technology that applies a labour/equipment mix that gives priority to labour, supplementing it with appropriate equipment where necessary for reasons of quality or cost. While producing or maintaining infrastructure to a specified standard in a cost-effective manner, people are employed under fair working conditions. It is in this respect important to distinguish between an optimum and efficient use of labour, as opposed to a maximum, and possibly inefficient use.

Experience has shown that for the same level of investment in local infrastructure, the use of labour-based technologies can create between two and four times more employment (mostly unskilled), drop foreign exchange requirements by 50% to 60%, decrease overall cost by 10 to 30%, and reduce environmental impacts.

The use of labour-based methods also implies the increased use of associated local resources. These may include locally available materials, tools and equipment, skills and knowledge, as well as finance. This reinforces the percentage of investment that remains in the country and often in the locality of the works, reduces the dependence on costly imports, and stimulates the local economy.

The ILO promotes the use of labour-based methods as a regular component of recurrent public investment programmes for the infrastructure and construction sectors, and supports special training and awareness programmes for this purpose, as well as the development and use of technical and contractual materials for the realisation of such programmes. Due to the high dependence on labour, the ILO actively promotes the application of appropriate labour standards and at least minimum working conditions including minimum wages, non-discrimination, the elimination of forced and child labour, the right to organize, protection of wages, safety and health and insurance against work accidents. Likewise, the inclusion of women as workers and leaders is also advocated.


Since 1992, the Labour-Based Rural Infrastructure Rehabilitation Project in Cambodia has worked towards poverty alleviation, generating much-needed employment through the use of labour-based methods for the rehabilitation of essential rural infrastructure. The project has three components:

1. Rehabilitating and maintaining rural roads
2. Reconstructing and maintaining irrigation schemes
3. Clearing and cleaning monuments, including the archaeological site at Angkor

From 1992 to 1997, the project created 2,700,000 workdays of employment, of which, on average, 43 per cent have been for women. Given the cost-effectiveness and the high quality of the interventions, as well as their impact on local employment and capacity building, the project was used as a model for the preparation of new labour-intensive infrastructure investments in Cambodia and elsewhere.

Further reading

  • Bituminous Surfacing Options for Low Volume Roads Constructed by Labour-Based Methods. - PDF 1,378 Kb
    Jon Hongve, International Labour Organisation, October 2006
  • Rural Infrastructure Publication No. 4, Jobs or machines - Comparative Analysis of Rural Road Work in Cambodia - PDF 1,258 Kb
    Paul Munters, International Labour Organisation, 2003
  • The Labour-based Technology Source Book: A Catalogue of Key Publications - PDF 3,229 Kb
    ILO ASIST, 2002
  • Guidelines for the Design and Construction of Suspension Footbridges - PDF 999 Kb
    Emannuel Chipuru, 2000
  • Designs and specifications for a standard trailer and hitch for labour-based works - PDF 2,427 Kb
    Jim Hamper and David Mason, 1999
  • Training Course Notes Surveying and Setting out - PDF 1,670 Kb
    Bjorn Johannessen, International Labour Organisation
  • Material Selection and Quality Assurance - PDF 190 Kb
    P. Paige Green, 1998
  • Productivity norms for labour-based construction - PDF 158 Kb
    David Stiedl, 1998
  • Technical Manual Labour Based Road Construction Methods - PDF 1,795 Kb
    Bjorn Johannessen, International Labour Organisation, 1997
  • Labour Based Road Construction and Maintenance Technology, Course Notes for the National Polytechnic Institute - PDF 3,446 Kb
    Bjorn Johannessen, International Labour Organisation, 1997
  • Technology Choice Man or Machines including Case Studies from Lesotho and Zimbabwe - PDF 3,056 Kb
    M. Lennartsson and D. Stiedl (Employment Promotion Seminar), 1995
  • Remuneration systems for labour-intensive investments. Lessons for equity and growth - PDF 43 Kb
    Steven K. Miller, International Labour Review Vol 131, 1992

Last update: 11 April 2005^ top