Everyone deserves the opportunity to have a good job that pays them well and allows them to afford a better standard of living. Decent employment opportunities work in synergy with inclusive economic growth that makes the world more prosperous. Economic growth must also be sensitive to the needs of the vulnerable and make sure that no one is left behind.
SDG 8 aims to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. It has 12 targets in total to be achieved by 2030 and 17 indicators to track whether these targets are achieved. The UN explains that roughly half of the world’s population still lives on the equivalent of about US $2 a day and that in many instances, having a job doesn’t guarantee the ability to escape from poverty. Hence, sustained and inclusive economic growth can drive progress and help create decent jobs for all while improving living standards, and vice versa.
In terms of the global progress on SDG 8, up until the COVID-19 pandemic there was an increasing growth of real GDP per capita, albeit at a slower pace in comparison to early 2000s. It could be noticed that ‘developing’ regions grew faster than ‘developed’ regions. Labour productivity (measured by GDP per worker), which spurs economic growth, showed a greater increase in developing regions too, especially in Asia. Between 2010 and 2015, the East Asian region showed the fastest growth in this regard. Despite this comparative growth, however, labour productivity remains higher in developed countries. Until the pandemic, global unemployment showed a decreasing trend but also indicated that women and youth were more likely to be unemployed. While the amount of child labour reduced from the year 2000, the highest percentage of child labour was seen in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, global access to financial services increased as well. The effect of the pandemic was to cause, in the words of the UN, “the worst global economic recession since the Great Depression.” This is due to the adverse impacts on working times and incomes of people. It is shown that workers of informal employment are the most at risk and that job losses are apparent, particularly among youth and women. With the roll-out of vaccines, the global economy is slowly recovering, led by China and the United States.
With regards to the status of Sri Lanka on SDG 8, low unemployment rates of below 5% were recorded before the pandemic. However, weaknesses existed in the Labour Force Participation (LFP) rates that were less impressive at around 54%. In addition, wide variations in employment status and LFP of males, could be noted, which was double that of females. Unemployment was also highest among those with G.C.E. A-Level qualifications and higher in terms of the education level. This reflects the prevalent sectoral mismatches in the labour market. With the pandemic, unemployment increased to 5.7% in March 2021. In addition, the tourism sector that picked up significantly in the postwar period was hit hard and faced major losses. The contribution of informal sector employment is relatively large in the local scenario, which creates a risk during the pandemic as ensuring a safe and secure work condition also becomes precarious. GDP growth rates in the last few years were even below the average growth rates during the war and the pandemic accelerated this decline as the Central Bank records the GDP growth of 2020 as a negative value of -3.6%. On the bright side, however, social protection programs via pension schemes and Samurdhi scheme to name a few, exist and Sri Lanka is also well on track to eliminate all forms of child labour which was only 1% of the child population in 2016.
Overall, the UN notes that, in order to achieve SDG 8, more progress is needed to increase employment opportunities especially for youth, reduce informal employment and labour market inequalities like the gender pay gap. Additionally, promoting a safe and secure work environment and improving access to financial services is emphasised. Investing in education and training and providing youth with skills that match labour market demands, giving them access to social protection and basic services regardless of their contract type would promote youth employment. Ensuring decent work for all regardless of their gender, income level or socio-economic background and focusing on women’s economic empowerment, in particular, are also needed to ensure sustained and inclusive economic growth.
– Rtr. Senadie De Alwis
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