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When employment sustains growth

Dawn's special coverage of the Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030 continues.
Published Sep 27, 2016 08:08am

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth


• Pakistan must create an additional two million jobs per annum in the next 38 years for its youth population

• Women’s labour force participation is one of the lowest in the world at 22pc

• More than 70pc of the country’s economy is informal and women are over-represented within this area

By Ingrid Christensen, Jamshed Kazi and Esam Alqararah

Ingrid Christensen is the country representative for the International Labour Organisation. Jamshed Kazi and Esam Alqararah are country representatives for UN Women and UN Industrial Development Organisation..

Youth unemployment, mass under-employment, and the post-recession risk of jobless growth and recovery aptly describe the present global economic landscape, including that of Pakistan. Global unemployment increased from 170 million in 2007 to nearly 202m in 2012, of which about 75m are young women and men. In recent years, poor employment and working conditions, including those in global supply chains or for migrant workers, have also made headlines. Roughly half the world’s population still lives on the equivalent of about two dollars per day. And in too many places, having a job doesn’t guarantee the ability to escape from poverty. This slow and uneven progress requires rethinking and reworking economic and social policies aimed at eradicating poverty. A continued lack of decent work opportunities, insufficient investments and under-consumption lead to an erosion of the basic social contract underlying democratic societies: that all must share in progress.

Unlike its Millennium Development Goals predecessor, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8 empowers governments to break free from the shackles of aid and propels nation-states towards making greater strides in trade, growth, jobs and safeguarding the dignity of individuals, communities and nations. And, for the first time, there is an unequivocal opportunity for the private sector and businesses to join hands with governments and the international community, and test their mettle in the cause for sustainable development.


The past decade has been one of marked economic progress in this country as the GDP per capita rose by an average of 4pc annually, while income-based poverty declined sharply, from 64.3pc in 2001 to 2002 to 29.5pc in 2013-14.


SDG 8 provides a roadmap that focuses on six target areas to placing governments on the trajectory of inclusive and sustainable growth, employment and decent work, including putting in place fiscal and social development measures that sustain economic growth; creating equitable economic growth; ensuring sustainable use of natural resources, so that future generations have the opportunity to use them as well; and generating full employment where the economy is operating at its peak economic potential. Although ambitious, these are achievable for Pakistan. The past decade has been one of marked economic progress in this country as the GDP per capita rose by an average of 4pc annually, while income-based poverty declined sharply, from 64.3pc in 2001 to 2002 to 29.5pc in 2013-14, according to the 2016 Multidimensional Poverty Index. Pakistan’s export revenues witnessed a rise in 2015, improving business performance in terms of productivity and quality, greater competitiveness and stronger market linkages. For instance, last year, 50 public departments, 200 private businesses and 500,000 individuals benefited from UN efforts to boost trade in agricultural and industrial sectors. With the fisheries sector, livelihoods of thousands have been secured by efforts to revitalise the industry, including offering training to 2,000 fishermen. Compliance with global standards not only led to the European Union lifting a seven-year ban on Pakistani fish imports in 2013, but it has since prompted a steady stream imports — including 80 consignments to the EU, surpassing $8m. Pakistan is also one of the only three countries in South-Asia that has ratified all eight labour standards, and provincial governments are introducing and revising labour policies and laws to ensure implementation of global standards. Efforts are ongoing with support from development partners to strengthen social protection, so as to ensure continuous income and the ability to lift people above the poverty line.

Lack of decent work opportunities is one of the roadblocks to inclusive and sustainable growth.—White Star
Lack of decent work opportunities is one of the roadblocks to inclusive and sustainable growth.—White Star

However, the government cannot afford to be complacent. Whilst keeping pace with the demand for enough jobs to absorb the growing labour force is a challenge for most countries, Pakistan needs to create an additional two million jobs per annum in the next 38 years to meet the increasing demand of an overwhelming youth population. Women’s labour force participation is one of the lowest in the world at 22pc. Paradoxically, because more than 70pc of the country’s economy is informal and women are over-represented within this area — home-based workers, for example, are yet to be fully recognised under the labour laws. Therefore, urgent attention is required to elevate women’s inclusion in the formal workforce. The exclusion allows them little or no access to decent wages or social security benefits. The lack of available data is one of the foremost issues that hamper effective advocacy efforts for the adoption of relevant policies and legislation impacting informal workers.

Moreover, the achievement of goals and targets under SDG 8 is closely linked to the implementation of Vision 2025 — and in particular its pillar on sustained indigenous and inclusive growth. Effective coordination and co-operation between the government, private sectors and the international community has shown results. But the key driver is how the government will generate gender-responsive and productive employment, rather than just employment, and how it will create inclusive, sustainable, economic growth rather than growth at all costs. The state and businesses will have to adapt their approach towards employment creation and labour policies if they are to tackle entrenched multi-dimensional challenges to meet the targets of SDG 8. And, importantly, while doing so, human dignity must remain central to inclusive economic growth policies.


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