Press Release from The JCTR :
Decent work for all should be upheld, says JCTR
It is a well recognised fact that employment is an important engine for driving economic growth and sustainably reducing poverty. But statistics show high rates of unemployment and underemployment. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), of the three billion people who constitute the labour force globally, more than one billion women and men are either unemployed, underemployed or working poor.
Even though statistics in Zambia show that more than 80% are in one form of employment or another, most of these are either underemployed or classified as unpaid family workers.
“Clearly”, says Miniva Chibuye, Coordinator of the Social Conditions Programme at the JCTR, “the creation of decent jobs has not kept up with the increase in labour supply”.
Decent work is an integral element of human dignity and as such cannot be separated from the poverty reduction agenda. In this regard, the inclusion of an employment target under Millenium Development Goal (MDG) Goal 1 of eradicating poverty and hunger was a major step forward. This additional MDG target (1B) titled ‘full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people’ was agreed upon in 2008 by the international community.
Therefore, the Labour Day theme for this year of ‘Promoting economic growth through decent work agenda’ resonated very well with the new MDG target. It is essential to pay attention to this agenda as a large segment of the working population is paid too little to enable them move out of poverty.
But how far the country succeeds in promoting economic growth through decent work largely depends on what strategies the Government will use to create more productive employment opportunities. For instance, will the Six National Development Plan (SNDP) and national budgets include strategies for reducing the proportion of employed people living below the poverty line? Are we likely to see an increase in formal employment? What about the question of a minimum wage that meets at least the cost of minimum food items for a family of six?
According to the JCTR Basic Needs Basket (BNB), the April cost of food for an average family of six in Lusaka was K901,250. This meant only an insignificant reduction of K250 from K901,500 in March 2010. While reductions were recorded in items such as dry kapenta, meat, tomatoes, bread and milk, these were offset by increases recorded in breakfast mealie meal, dry fish, eggs, onion and cooking oil. Furthermore, an increase in non-food items such as charcoal from K68,800 to K72,500 per 90kg bag had an effect on the total BNB, which increased from K2,771,930 to K2,778,680 during the period under analysis.
Certainly increased and better remunerated employment enables households to at least meet the cost of food. But, the argument that this might cripple small businesses is valid and should be responded to using necessary policies to boost the productivity and profitability, particularly of local small businesses. “Nonetheless”, says Ms. Chibuye, “the argument against the minimum wage should not lose sight of its positive effects such as the potential it has to stimulate local spending opportunities on goods and services and reduce chronic poverty”. Indeed, increasing incomes have multiplier effects on agriculture and access to social services.
However, achieving this process requires perceptive and consistent policy interventions such as focusing on the improvement and adjustment in the skill composition of the poor members of the society so they can compete for skilled employment in the labour market.
More importantly, there is need to treat the promotion of decent work as a fundamental human right by enshrining it in the Bill of Rights of our new Zambian constitution. If this is done, it can help in the realisation of other human rights, especially economic, social and cultural rights.
[For more information, contact the Social Conditions programme of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection, P. O. Box 37774, Lusaka, Zambia; tel: 260-211-290410; fax: 260-211-290759; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; ]