IBSA International Conference on South-South Cooperation: Theme I: Spectrum from public works to EGS - Tools and training for mass employment generation & poverty alleviation

Meeting document | New Delhi, India | 20 February 2012

In many countries in the world, unemployment is an ongoing challenge, with markets unable to create employment at the scale required. Public Employment Programmes (PEP) are able to complement employment creation by the private sector, and offer an additional policy instrument with which to tackle the problem of un- and underemployment, as part of wider employment and social protection policies. When properly targeted, these programmes help to reduce the vulnerability of the poor strata of the population.

There was a jobs crisis before the financial crisis, a structural unemployment problem as a result of jobless growth in many areas of the world. In the past, growth has also increased inequality. As such, there is a wider case for employment intensive public employment programmes as part of ongoing employment and social protection policies. This is an area of significant innovation at present, at times combining the multiple objectives of employment generation, income support, and asset creation which are part of an inclusive and productive growth policy - that is equitable and providing dignity through the right to work – and not just as a crisis response.

India’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Rural Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) launched in 2005 optimizes resources by using productive employment as an effective instrument to reduce extreme poverty and to address climate change at the same time. The convergence in design contributes to economic, social and environmental multiplier effects through the provision of access to basic services which are provided to and by rural households when they engage in works under MGNREGA. While the primary objective of the Act is poverty alleviation / employment generation, a further objective is stated “...as creation of durable assets and strengthening the livelihoods base of the rural poor...” MGNREGA is designed to provide employment and income to the rural household, contributing directly to livelihoods security, adversely affected by climate change. In 2009-10, fully backed by political will and adequate budget resources (US$ 8.4 billion) from the Government of India, the implementation of the Act has provided wage employment support to 53 million households yielding in encouraging results.

Many countries are still benefiting from short-term emergency public works programmes in response to a crisis, while some have already used their large-scale public employment programmes to scale up or down to address the needs of an ongoing crisis. Others traditional public work programmes (PWP) like the Expanded PWP (EPWP), have been complimented by programmes that act as an employment safety net supplementing existing livelihood strategies through community works by providing a basic level of income security. The Ethiopian Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) provides a great case study of the effective linkages between providing productive employment and social assistance, by providing work to those who are able to work and income security to those who are not. The main features of these large-scale public employment programmes were established before the onset of the financial crisis.

The Workshop will share how the introduction of an ‘employment guarantee’ in India has changed the scope of PEPs by providing the ‘Right to Work’, and will also highlight other case studies from around the world:

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in India

The Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) in South Africa

The Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) in Ethiopia.

The principles, approaches and outcomes of these schemes will be presented and discussed.