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Handbook of International Social WorkHuman Rights, Development, and the Global Profession$

Lynne M. Healy and Rosemary J. Link

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195333619

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195333619.001.0001

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Employment, Unemployment, and Decent Work

Employment, Unemployment, and Decent Work

Chapter:
(p.179) 26 Employment, Unemployment, and Decent Work
Source:
Handbook of International Social Work
Author(s):

Tatsuru Akimoto

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195333619.003.0026

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter summarizes the global employment situation, which begins with an international comparison of employment composition by status, industry, and occupation. Reference to informal sectors is then made, and a description of unemployment, underemployment, and decent work follows. The link between these factors and the international migration of workers is also briefly explored. Even if the same word, employment, is used, what it means—the reality and concept—may differ considerably, making international comparisons and analyses difficult. As far as intervention is concerned, the International Labor Organization (ILO) is the core international agency that is active in this field through setting standards and implementing technical cooperation projects whose processes provide opportunities for the field of social work to intervene.

Keywords:   global employment, informal sectors, unemployment, underemployment, labor migration, International Labor Organization, social work practice

The global employment situation is summarized in this chapter, which begins with an international comparison of employment composition by status, industry, and occupation. Reference to informal sectors is then made, and a description of unemployment, underemployment, and decent work follows. The link between these factors and the international migration of workers is also briefly explored. Even if the same word, employment, is used, what it means—the reality and concept—may differ considerably, making international comparisons and analyses difficult. As far as intervention is concerned, the ILO (International Labour Organization) is the core international agency that is active in this field through setting standards and implementing technical cooperation projects whose processes provide opportunities for the field of social work to intervene.

Employment in the World by Status, Industry, and Occupation

Employment is typically characterized by status in employment, industry, and occupation. The employment environment varies around the world. In one country, most people may be engaged in farming, forestry, and fishery with their families, while in another country, they may work in manufacturing and service sectors as blue- and white-collar employees.

In Bangladesh, for example, two-thirds (63.5%) of working people are employers (including own-account workers) and contributing family workers, and 21.6% are employees. More than half (51.7%) work for the primary industries (i.e., agriculture, hunting, forestry, and fishing), 13.7% for the secondary industries (i.e. mining and quarrying; manufacturing; electricity, gas, and water supply; and construction), and the remaining for the tertiary industries (i.e., wholesale and retail trade, restaurants and hotels, transport, storage, communication, financing, insurance, real estate, business, community, social and personal services, and so on). More than half (51.4%) are skilled agricultural and fishery workers,1 and the remaining (48.1%) are production and related workers, transport equipment operators and laborers, and service workers and shop and market sales workers (ILO, 2007).

In the United States, on the other hand, 7.4% of all employed are employers and contributing family workers and 92.6 % are employees; very few people (1.5%) work in the primary industries, 20.8% work in the secondary industries, and the overwhelming  majority (77.7%) work in the tertiary industries. Only 0.7% are skilled agricultural and fishery workers, whereas 23.8% are production and related workers, transport equipment operators, and laborers; 48.4% are legislators, senior officials and managers, professionals, technicians and associate professionals, and clerks; and 28.0% are service workers and shop and market sales workers (ILO, 2007).

Most other countries in the world fall between these two countries. Many Two-Thirds World countries (also called developing countries or countries of the Global South) are closer to the former, and most member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are closer to the latter. In Egypt, for an example, employees make up 60.0% of workers, workers in the primary industries make up 30.9%, and skilled agricultural and fishery workers make up 30.1%. In Malaysia, the percentages are 76.2%, 14.6%, and some 10%, respectively (ILO, 2007).

Although there is much criticism of modernization theory, or convergence theory (see Chapter 4), most societies seem to be shifting from an employer and family worker focus to an employee focus, from agrarian to blue-collar and white-collar workers, and from primary industry to secondary and tertiary (service) industry, albeit with some exceptions.

(p.180) The Informal Sector in the Two-Thirds World

The description just given does not necessarily portray the scope of employment worldwide, particularly that in the Two-Thirds World. Consider the following examples. Yesterday, a worker was an employer asking someone to work for him, but today he is an employee being asked to work for someone. He was engaged in digging a well a few days ago, is engaged in guiding tourists today, and may be engaged in farming a neighbor’s fields for a week or two starting the day after tomorrow. Another person worked for a factory as a production worker last month but is building a house as a construction worker this month. Between jobs or even at the same time every evening, they work in their stalls on the streets as food venders or as noodle cooks in the family food stand as family workers. Holding one steady, major job may often be exceptional, and holding multiple jobs at one time might be normal. Or, more extremely, they may still live in a self-sufficient economy, either partially or totally.

An ILO report on Kenya in 1972 described the informal sector for the first time. In this sector, there are many people who sell goods on streets, provide various services, run numerous microplants (very small plants sometimes known as cottage industries), and are engaged in other economic activities. These individuals and enterprises have no registration, permission, or license, and they are outside taxation, statistics, labor laws, and regulations on occupational safety and health and other labor standards, including social security and insurance schemes. Their level of technology and skills, productivity, and income tend to be very low (ILO, 1991). Before this report, the ILO, as well as governments and other entities, had been endeavoring to improve worker conditions and status, but they now recognized that the workers who were in the most need with the most difficult problems had been overlooked and unprotected. What’s more, these workers exist in considerable numbers.

The concept and definition of the informal sector vary (e.g., the ILO Director-General report at the 1991 Annual General Meeting and the statistical definition adopted at the Fifteenth International Conference of Labour Statisticians in 1993). Some economic activities in developed countries are sometimes discussed under the same concept. A report presented at the 2002 ILO General Meeting, for example, differentiated the informal economy, informal employment, informal sectors, and unprotected jobs in attempting to define the concept (ILO, 2003).

Informal economic activities have expanded all over the world. The informal economy share in Africa includes nearly 80% of workers in nonagricultural employment, some 60% of workers in urban employment, and more than 90% of new jobs (Charmes, 2000). Employment in countries with developing and transition economies has been mostly created within the framework of informal economic activities (ILO, 2003).

Unemployment

The unemployment rate may be the most critical indicator for describing the difficulties of working people. The unemployed are generally defined as “persons above a specified age” who are “not in paid employment or self-employment,” are “currently available for work,” and are “seeking work … during the reference period” (ILO, 2007, p. 481). The unemployment rate varies considerably by country. In 2006, the unemployment rate in various countries was as follows: Thailand, 1.2%; Cuba, 1.9%; Iceland, 2.9%; and Norway, Korea, and New Zealand, around 3.5%. In contrast, the rate for Macedonia was 36.0%; Bosnia and Herzegovina, 31.1%; French Guiana, 29.1%; South Africa, 25.5%; and the West Bank and Gaza Strip, 23.2%. Most of these countries have experienced wars or other conflicts. The unemployment rate of the United States during the same period was 4.6%; Canada, 6.3%; Germany, 10.4%; and most other countries between 4% and 10% (ILO, 2007).

Convergence is not necessarily applicable to the unemployment rate. Variance is observed even among OECD countries. Also, the rate fluctuates greatly even within a country, depending on the area and time. Just a few years later in May 2009, for example, the unemployment rate of the United States had doubled to 9.4% due to the financial crisis of 2009 (USBLS, 2009). Adding the discouraged unemployed  would increase the rate even further; in fact, differences in the definition of unemployment and the methodology by country have been questioned. These differences were adjusted and standardized, only to result in little change.

A more basic question once raised was, “Which workers are happier, those whose unemployment rate is 20% (e.g., in some parts of Spain and southern Italy) or those at 4% plus (e.g., in the United States)?” (Bluestone, 1999). Family and neighborhood support and stigma, social norms, and social benefits and services make a difference. Also, dividing a full-time job into two part-time jobs for two workers would lower the unemployment rate by 50%. At the other (p.181) economic pole of the world, urban slum dwellers in the least developed countries would not be unemployed. They have to work taking whatever job comes, including collecting cans and papers on the streets, to eat and live for today, with no savings, stocks, or social security programs or benefits.

Working Conditions and Decent Work

The dichotomous analysis of employment versus unemployment may be of little use. Employment comprising very long working hours with very low wages or the reverse of very short working hours against one’s will has been discussed under the name of underemployment for many years. Employment requiring very little of one’s full capacity may also be named similarly termed.

Some employment involves inhumane working conditions regarding wages, hours, fringe benefits, safety and health, and participation. Benefits and social protection that often accompany formal work—housing benefits, health and medical benefits, workers’ compensation insurance, severance pay and unemployment insurance, and retirement benefits—are totally lacking. There must be jobs, but the jobs must be decent ones. In the 1990s, the ILO introduced decent work as a key campaign term. It refers to a rather all-inclusive humane sort of work “in which rights, social protection and social dialogue must be secured, and freedom and equality, the (economic and social) safe security of life of working people exist,” that is, “productive employment with which dignity as a human being is kept” (ILO in Japan [ILO-Tokyo], n.d.). Recently, decent work has been promoted as a goal of all ILO activities; it has been itemized as employment creation, the security of fundamental human rights in jobs, the expansion of social protection, and the promotion of social dialogue (e.g., Ghai, 2006).

To achieve these goals, the ILO has adopted some 200 conventions from its commencement. Because many countries, including the United States, have not ratified a number of those conventions and therefore are not bound by them, the ILO adopted the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work in 1998, demanding that all countries, regardless of their ratification, abide by eight core labor standards in four fields: (1) freedom of association and recognition of the right to collective bargaining (Conventions 87 and 98), (2) elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor (Conventions 29 and 105), (3) effective abolition of child labor (Conventions 138 and 182), and (4) elimination of discrimination in regard to employment and occupation (Conventions 100 and 111).

The UN World Summit for Social Development in 19952 and World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in 1996 had earlier confirmed that each country was to respect these core labor standards. These standards have also been cited in various documents, such as the OECD Guideline for Multinational Enterprises, UN Global Compact, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), and International Organization for Standardization (ISO), as well as in discussions on corporate social responsibility (CSR) (JTUC, 2009).

Labor Markets and Migration

Lack of employment and disparity in working conditions—most typically wages—trigger the migration of workers. Taking wages in manufacturing industries as an example, Denmark paid hourly wages of US$33.25 (2003); Germany, $19.12 (2004); the United States, $16.56 (2005); and Spain, $14.90 (2004). Monthly wages in Korea were at $2421.25 (2005); Thailand, $197.48 (2006); China, $125.32 (2003); and India, $23.80 (2002) (JPC-SED, 2009, p. 186).3 When adding the fringe benefits or labor costs in addition to cash payment, the gap widens even further. An accurate international comparison of wages is difficult because of differences in the content and form of labor provided, wage systems, statistical methodologies, consumer prices, significance of cash income in life, and international currency exchange rates, and the rewards for labor certainly differ greatly depending on where they are supplied, even if quality and quantity are similar.

Most people stay in the area of their birth all their lives. Some, however, move to other areas, sometimes beyond their national boundaries, seeking a better life. Besides labor market conditions, necessary factors include a spirit of challenge and competency, information on employment opportunities, and the funds to emigrate. Poverty may or may not be a cause of migration.

In 2005, 191 million migrants were living outside their countries of birth or nationality. This figure includes those who moved abroad for work, their dependents, and asylum seekers. About half of them4 were economically active: 28.5 million in Europe and Russia, 25 million in Asia and the Middle East, 20.5 million in North America, 7.1 million in Africa, 2.9 million in Oceania, and 2.5 million in Latin (p.182) America and the Caribbean. The gender ratio was roughly 50–50 as of 2000 (ILO-Tokyo, n.d.). Movements generally are from Mexico, the Caribbean Islands, and Asia to the United States and Canada; from North Africa, Turkey, Greece, and Eastern Europe to Western Europe; from Asia to the Middle East; and from Asia and South America to Japan and Eastern Asia, although these fluctuate depending on the economic conditions in each country and region.

These migrants can be permanent or temporary, dispatched workers abroad or employees transferred abroad within corporations, and legal or illegal (undocumented) workers. The jobs in which they are engaged range from highly skilled professional work such as information technology (IT) positions to low-paid, unskilled jobs such as farming, cleaning, maintenance, manufacturing, construction, and domestic and health work. The latter often are not decent work and exist under insecure, unprotected labor conditions in an informal economy (ILO-Tokyo, n.d.). Undocumented workers are always under threat of being fired, reported, arrested, or deported and are in danger of being exploited.

Undocumented workers are people who (1) entered a country illegally; (2) entered legally with a nonworking visa (e.g., tourist visa) but are engaged in work or entered with a working visa but are engaged in work that would require another category of visa; or (3) entered legally but stay to work beyond the permitted period. There are about three million such workers in the United States and Europe, respectively.

Intervention in the International Arena and Social Work

Problems and needs arising in the social phenomena of employment and decent work must be placed in the broader perspective of the society (e.g., North and South relations, multinational corporations and globalization, and how social work interventions must be questioned). Nothing is essentially different from other fields of social work. The level of practice and research ranges from policy, program, and project design, implementation, and evaluation to direct services, and interest in topics range from poverty to human rights.

The one difference is the need for two conceptual frameworks in tandem: that of international social work and a tentatively named social work of work. The former is discussed in other sections of this volume. The latter has been labeled social work in the world of work in the United States in the 1970s (e.g., Hyman Weiner) or workers’ welfare in Japan in the 1980s (e.g., Tatsuru Akimoto), where all aspects of the lives of working people, including problems in the labor market, workplace, family, community life, and labor unions, are encompassed. US social work has been involved historically in addressing unemployment, low wages, and occupational safety and health since at least the time of Jane Addams from the beginning of the twentieth century to the 1920s and 1930s. More recently, occupational social work practice in the United States and parts of Europe may be skewed toward employee assistance programs (EAP).

The major arenas for social work activities are international agencies (UN-related agencies such as the ILO, UNDP, UNICEF, and UNHCR), international cooperation agencies of each nation-state (e.g., USAID, CEDA, JICA), and NGOs (nongovernmental organizations, including religious organizations). The ILO is the most influential international agency specializing in this domain, and it has two significant fields: (1) setting standards as described earlier and (2) sponsoring technical corporation projects. Both fields provide opportunity for social work to work, but particularly the latter is on the same turf as social work. More than a third of the budgets of these projects has been used for employment. Projects range from framing employment policies and plans and capacity building of governments at the national level to vocational training and entrepreneurship programs for women and people with disabilities at the local level. One recent emphasis in projects for employment promotion is projects for infrastructure construction through the ILO Employment-Intensive Investment Programme, which uses only technologies available in the locality and takes a local rather than national approach. Many other agencies have been implementing similar projects.

The actual involvement of professional social workers has been limited, but one example is a research project, The shrinkage of urban slums in [five Asian cities] and their employment aspects, carried out amid the explosion of urban slums in the twenty-first century (Akimoto, 1998). The diminishing process was reviewed historically and empirically, and a comprehensive list of employment interventions by governments and NGOs was obtained.

The companionship between the ILO and social work has been long lasting. Even the preliminary committee meeting for the founding of the International Committee of Schools for Social Work (the predecessor of International Association of Schools of (p.183) Social Work) in Berlin in 1929 was attended by an ILO representative (Kniephoff-Knebel & Seibel, 2008).

In summary, in some parts of the world, most people are self-employed or family workers in farming, fishery, and forestry, while in other parts, most people are blue-or white-collar employees in manufacturing and service industries. In some parts of the world, a majority of people are working in informal sectors or economies. Some countries have an unemployment rate of only a few percent, while other countries have rates higher than 30%. Not only the existence of employment itself but also the quality of employment are concerns under the terms of underemployment—or recently, decent work. Disparity in working conditions and the absence of employment trigger the international migration of workers. The ILO and other UN-related agencies, national aid-providing agencies, and NGOs, particularly via technical corporation projects, provide social work with arenas in which to address employment-related issues.

Notes

(1.) The occupation classification in this section is ISCO-88 (International Standard Classification of Occupation of 1988).

(2.) One of the main themes of 1995 UN World Summit for Social Development was the realization of productive employment, the raising of poverty eradication and full employment as a goal, and the promise to build up a secure, safe, and fair society (ILO-Tokyo, n.d.).

(3.) Definitions of real wages of production workers may differ by country. Original data sources were various governmental statistics of each country and the ILO Yearbook of Labour Statistics, cited from Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare International Affairs Division, International Situation Report [Kaigai Josei Hokoku] 2005–6. The data were converted into yen in the report with the exchange rates in Japanese Cabinet Office foreign economic data [kaigai keizai deta] and IMF international financial statistics and then converted into US dollars by the present writer with annual average rates calculated from weighted averages of rates weekly announced by Japanese Customs Chiefs (JPC-SED, 2009, p. 186).

(4.) “86 million out of 175 million migrants in 2000,” “Of the 200 million international migrants, 50 percent are … migrant workers” (www.ilo.org/migrant).

References

Bibliography references:

Akimoto, T. (1998). Shrinkage of urban slums in Asia and their employment aspects. Bangkok: ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

Bluestone, B. (1999). Constructing a new cross-national architecture for labor market statistics: A grant proposal to Ford Foundation (funded in 2000). Cited in Tatsuru, A. (2004). Labor market statistics and well-being: A new architecture but under construction. Social Welfare, 44.

Charmes, J. (2000). Informal sector, poverty, and gender: A review of empirical evidence. Paper commissioned for World Development Report 2000/2001. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Ghai, D. (Ed.). (2006). Decent work: Objectives and strategies. Geneva: International Institute for Labour Studies, ILO.

International Labour Organization (ILO). (2007). Yearbook of labour statistics, 2007. Geneva: Author.

International Labour Organization (ILO). (2003). Decent work and the informal economy. Report VI, Ninetieth Annual General Meeting, Geneva.

International Labour Organization (ILO). (1991). Director-general report: The dilemma of the informal sector. Seventy-Eighth ILO General Meeting, Geneva.

International Labour Organization (ILO). (1972). Employment, incomes and equality: A Strategy for increasing productive employment in Kenya. Geneva: Author.

International Labour Organization Office in Japan (ILO-Tokyo). (n.d.). Labour force migration [Rodoryoku ido] (leaflet). Tokyo: Author.

JPC-SED (Japan Productivity Center for Socio-Economic Development). (2009). Labour statistics of use [Katsuyo rodo tokei]. Tokyo: Author.

JTUC (Japan Trade Union Congress; Rengo). (2009). Core labor standards and ILO [Chukaku-teki rodo-kijun to ILO]. http://www.jtuc-rengo.org (retrieved on March 20, 2009).

Kniephoff-Knebel, A., & Seibel, F. (2008). Establishing international cooperation in social work education: The first decade of the International Committee of Schools for Social Work (ICSW). International Social Work, 51(6), 790–812.

USBLS (United States Bureau of Labor Statistics). (2007, June 5). Employment situation: May 2009 (news release). www.bls.gov/bls/newsrels.htm (retrieved on June 18, 2009).

Notes:

(1.) The occupation classification in this section is ISCO-88 (International Standard Classification of Occupation of 1988).

(2.) One of the main themes of 1995 UN World Summit for Social Development was the realization of productive employment, the raising of poverty eradication and full employment as a goal, and the promise to build up a secure, safe, and fair society (ILO-Tokyo, n.d.).

(3.) Definitions of real wages of production workers may differ by country. Original data sources were various governmental statistics of each country and the ILO Yearbook of Labour Statistics, cited from Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare International Affairs Division, International Situation Report [Kaigai Josei Hokoku] 2005–6. The data were converted into yen in the report with the exchange rates in Japanese Cabinet Office foreign economic data [kaigai keizai deta] and IMF international financial statistics and then converted into US dollars by the present writer with annual average rates calculated from weighted averages of rates weekly announced by Japanese Customs Chiefs (JPC-SED, 2009, p. 186).

(4.) “86 million out of 175 million migrants in 2000,” “Of the 200 million international migrants, 50 percent are … migrant workers” (www.ilo.org/migrant).