By Akanimo Sampson
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) Regional Director for Africa, Cynthia Samuel-Olajuwon, says gainful employment is still the most reliable way of escaping poverty. But, access to both jobs and decent working conditions remains a challenge.
According to her, ‘’66 per cent of employed people in developing economies and 22 per cent in emerging economies are in either extreme or moderate working poverty, and the problem becomes even more striking when the dependents of these working poor are considered.
‘’Thus, it is not just unemployment or inactivity that traps people in poverty, they are also held back by a lack of decent work opportunities, including underemployment or informal employment.
‘’Appropriate labour market policies can play an important role in the fight to eradicate poverty, by increasing access to job opportunities and improving the quality of working conditions. In particular, labour market policies that combine income support for jobless people with active labour market policies (ALMPs).’’
The new ILO report What works: Promoting pathways to decent work however, shows that combining income support with active labour market support allows countries to tackle multiple barriers to decent work.For the ILO chief, ‘’these barriers can be structural, (e.g. lack of education and skills, presence of inequalities) or temporary (e.g. climate-related shocks, economic crises). This policy combination is particularly relevant today, at a time when the world of work is being reshaped by global forces such as international trade, technological progress, demographic shifts and environmental transformations.
‘’Policies that combine income support with ALMPs can help people to adjust to the changes these forces create in the labour market. Income support ensures that people do not fall into poverty during joblessness and that they are not forced to accept any work, irrespective of its quality. At the same time, ALMPs endow people with the skills they need to find quality employment, improving their employability over the medium- to long-term.
‘’New evidence gathered for this report shows that this combination of income support and active support is indeed effective in improving labour market conditions: impact evaluations of selected policies indicate how people who have benefited from this type of integrated approach have higher employment chances and better working conditions.’’
Continuing, she said, ‘’one example of how this combined approach can produce results is the innovative unemployment benefit scheme unrolled in Mauritius, the Workfare Programme. This provides workers with access to income support and three different types of activation measures; training (discontinued in 2016), job placement and start-up support.
‘’The programme was also open to those unemployed people who were previously working in an informal job. By extending coverage to the most vulnerable workers, the scheme has helped reduce inequalities and unlock the informality trap.
‘’Another success came through a public works scheme implemented in Uruguay as part of a larger conditional cash transfer programme, the National Social Emergency Plan (PANES). The programme was implemented during a deep economic recession and carefully targeted the poorest and most vulnerable.
‘’Beneficiaries of PANES were given the opportunity to take part in public works. In exchange for full-time work for up to five months, they received a higher level of income support as well as additional job placement help.
‘’This approach reached a large share of the population at risk of extreme poverty and who lacked social protection. The report indicates that providing both measures together was critical to the project’s success.
‘’The effects of these policies on poverty eradication cannot be overestimated. By tackling unemployment, underemployment and informality, policies combining income support with ALMPs can directly affect some of the roots of poverty, while enhancing the working conditions and labour market opportunities for millions of women and men in emerging and developing countries.’’