Employment, equity and human development

The consultation held in Tokyo, 15-16 May 2012, aimed to stimulate discussions amongst multi-stakeholder experts on issues relating to growth, structural change, productive capacities, and employment, as they relate to both the MDGs and any framework that may come after 2015.

Conference paper | 25 June 2012

The current composition and patterns of growth are associated with unsustainable levels of unemployment. With the exception of Asian countries (South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia) where labour-intensive sectors (manufacturing) led to higher employment, others recorded lower rates in employment due to the lack of labour-intensive industrialization, infrastructure and adequate policies. Success in job creation is explained by a series of factors:

- enabling factors – peace, the rule of law, sound education and training systems, adequate infrastructure

- good macroeconomic policies

- modifying factors that adjust behavior and results, mainly to deal with externalities and imperfect markets – these include labour laws, social protection measures and environmental protection

- ‘the initiative’ factor – based on entrepreneurship, an individual or an organization that sees an opportunity and takes the risk of investing resources to realize it

A development framework having people at its centre will have to overcome the current trends of precarity and vulnerability of employment – underemployment, low wages and informal jobs – which entrench people in poverty and erodes social cohesion. Normative approaches and global policies such as the Global Jobs Pact could reduce this type of vulnerability, increasing preparedness and capacity to adjust to further shocks of labour markets.

In a rights-based approach to employment, investment in human development must precede growth. To improve the quality of employment opportunities – especially for women, youth and discriminated groups - and transform the structure of employment, it is necessary to increase worker productivity by providing access to quality education and training. For large numbers of people working in the informal sector, extension of labour laws, access to social protection and support to professionalizing and scaling up their businesses are needed. To move people into high value-added activities requires at the bottom the implementation of robust social policies in health, education and training.

Another key issue that needs to be addressed with regard to employment is gender equality. Although women’s access to paid work has increased everywhere, women’s work is characterized by deterioration of terms and conditions of work. Still, many women do not have equal access to employment opportunities because they are burdened with unpaid work. Societal norms and power relations within families and communities also play a big role in determining women’s ability to earn and have control over a decent wage. A number of policies and awareness measures are needed to remove barriers for women’s access to the labour market, including adequate provisioning of social services and infrastructure, fairer distribution of household work, rights of workers employed by informal sector, providing women access to productive assets such as land and credit.

A life cycle approach to decent work involves key indicators, among which tackling youth unemployment, ending child labour, providing adequate pay and working conditions for parents and children over 15 and providing living wages for workers remain vital for vital for poverty reduction.