15-16 JUNE 2016 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

Developing with decent work

Developing with decent work

Thursday, June 4, 2015 -
12:30 to 13:45

Key points

  • Achieving the international goal of ‘decent work for all’ requires dialogue among all social and political actors.
  • In many developing countries, most workers are employed in the informal sector, with almost no rights and no social protection; up to 80 % of the workforce in sub-Saharan Africa is employed in the informal sector.
  • Any effective development measure must take account of how ordinary people live; there must be investment in human capital, not just in physical capital.


Achieving the international goal of decent work for all requires dialogue between all social and political actors. This dialogue must include not just labour movements, politicians and business leaders, but it must also embrace civil society.

The concept of decent work has a number of components. It must generate sufficient income for a worker and his or her family to live a decent life; it must be carried out in safe conditions; workers must have the freedom to express their views and organize; and there must be equality of opportunity, as well as gender, with equal pay for equal work.

But in many developing countries, working conditions are far from decent. Most workers are employed in the so-called informal work sector, where there are few rights. In sub-Saharan Africa, up to 80 % of the workforce is employed in the informal sector. In India, it is 90 %.

Moazam Mahmood, Director, Economic and Labour Market Analysis Department, Interntional Labour Organization (ILO), said that in poor countries, employment levels are a function of demographics not gross domestic product. This is because the poorest must work to survive. Investment drives economic growth, but there must be investment in human capital and not just in physical capital.

For Wellington Chibebe, Deputy General-Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation, development and job creation are rooted in human rights. ‘Labour is not a commodity,’ he said. Developmental success cannot be measured in terms of new buildings or banks accounts; it must take account of how people live.

Meeting the decent work agenda is difficult and cannot be achieved by any one actor alone, said Veronica Rubio, Senior Strategic Issues Manager, Business Social Compliance Initiative. The initiative brings together 1 600 companies that have endorsed a code of conduct on working conditions and human rights throughout their supply chains. Achieving decent work will involve cooperation in the workplace between managers and workers, improving health and safety practices and regular assessments of performance throughout the supply chain through social audits.

Francoise Millecam, Deputy Head of Unit, Human Development and Migration, Directorate-General for International Development and Cooperation, European Commission, said that the European Union is working to promote decent work through its development cooperation and to promote democracy to fight against corruption.

‘Social dialogue should aim first at addressing the deficiencies of the informal sector,’ she said, adding that this an area in which the trade unions movement could take a lead.

Irene G. Mbugua, Second Counsellor, Embassy of Kenya, Brussels, said education is a key driver of development and the Kenyan government is investing strongly in it. But its policies will take time to work, she said, after Chibebe suggested Kenya is an example of a country in which economic development is very unequal. Kenya is experiencing ‘enclave’ development rather than inclusive development, he said. 


Better quality leads to better productivity. When it comes to employment, a country’s development has to be seen in terms of its job quality and not just quantity.