Decent Work, Decent Life

The Decent Work agenda requires national and international actors to commit to the objective of creating quality jobs globally and to pursue cooperative solutions to this challenge. It mostly means opportunities for productive and fairly remunerated work, security in the workplace and social protection for families.

Decent work is a term that was coined by the International Labour Organisation and its Director-General Juan Somavia in a June 1999 report, where it was defined as follows: "The primary goal of the ILO today is to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Decent work is the converging focus of all its four strategic objectives: the promotion of rights at work; employment; social protection; and social dialogue." In short, the ILO considers decent work as "the heart of social progress".

The Decent Work agenda has a very high political and ideological potential for the Global Progressive Forum. In the medium to long run, it can inspire policies both in developed and developing countries, and could gradually shift global development and trade policies towards integrating a strong social dimension, as well as feeding into national policy agendas across the world.

Decent Work is now gradually finding its way into the global agenda. In the poorer parts of the world, Decent Work is essential for winning the global fight against poverty and meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals. The link between poverty reduction and employment creation in decent forms - respecting international labour standards and fundamental principles and rights at work - must become a key component of what globalisation should stand for and should help us to achieve.

In richer countries, the Decent Work agenda has an equivalent potential of providing the elements of a political strategy of more and better jobs - ensuring that workers' rights cannot simply be played against each other, but that employment transfers are combined with social progress in destination countries.

Other elements of the Decent Work agenda equally fit in with our vision of globalisation: creating greater opportunities for women and men to secure decent income, enhancing the coverage and effectiveness of social protection for all, and strengthening tripartism and social dialogue across the world.

Decent work in Africa:

Africa has tremendous growth and development potential. Statistics on the nature and extent of poverty and inequality show, however, that the region is far from realizing its latent power of human and natural capital. Half of Africa's population, over 300 million people, lives in extreme poverty on US$1 a day or less African labour markets are characterized by an exploding urban informal economy that coexists with a predominantly rural, agriculture-based labour force.

African employers, unions and employment and labour ministers know better than anyone the challenges of creating opportunities for women and men to work productively and earn for themselves a decent livelihood. Some of the barriers to a faster pace of job creation and poverty reduction lie in the unfair nature of the emerging system of rules governing international economic relations. Others are to be found inside Africa itself.

At local level, the International Labour Organisation, together with its tripartite constituents, has launched different activities for improving skills formation, developing small enterprises, extending microinsurance and microfinance, eliminating child labour and ending gender and other forms of discrimination.

If we are really to get on track for halving the incidence of extreme poverty in Africa by 2015, as called for by the United Nations Millennium Summit, we have to scale up our efforts and place programmes to promote more and better jobs at the heart of Africa's development strategy. That calls for the integration of the ILO's decent work country programmes with national development strategies and the mobilization of international financial resources.Decent work for all is the core of a socially inclusive and economically dynamic African development framework. Sustainable development is founded on productive employment. When people can find work that yields a regular income sufficient to meet the basic needs of their families, we are well on the way to not just reducing but eradicating poverty.

Combating this poverty will imply identifying the causes of the large-scale unemployment, underemployment and low productivity, particularly in agriculture, which are a feature of many African economies. In many African countries over 70 per cent of the labour force is employed in agriculture; however, as this sector has very low levels of productivity, it contributes a relatively small share of aggregate output. Most African agricultural workers are women whereas much of the manufacturing industry is male-dominated. Deep-seated gender discrimination is a major constraint to growth and development.

Key challenges for the continent's economic growth and the welfare of its people are how to raise agricultural productivity, and thus rural family incomes, while also shifting resources into higher value added industry and service sectors.

From the perspective of promoting social dialogue and strengthening the social dimensions of globalization, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and social partners are playing a pivotal role and need to be strongly supported.

Decent work and women:

Inequalities within and between countries have increased, and for many, globalization and economic restructuring have brought increased insecurity, uncertainty or marginalization. In some circumstances globalization has decreased gender inequalities, particularly in countries where it led to an unprecedented employment of female labour, but in other cases it has intensified them. Progress towards the achievement of gender equality has been far from sustained.

Hence, all the global conferences and summits of the 1990s have placed gender equality on their priority agenda. Equality and non-discrimination are at the core of the rights-based approach endorsed at the Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development and strengthened at the Fourth Women's Conference in Beijing in 1995. Granting the same legal status to men and women is the first necessary step, but it is not sufficient.