Goal 8—Parsing Goal 8 on Decent Work for All

After a two-year blizzard of consultations, debates, task forces and reports, the General Assembly of the United Nations started its final round of negotiations on 19 January 2015 to finalize the global post-2015 development agenda, a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The main document of discussion was a proposal for 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. With such a hefty list, changes—and perhaps a shorter list—can be expected before the final text is ready for adoption in September 2015. The scope of the core goals, however, should remain untouched.

Goal 8 seeks to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.” With unemployment set to increase over the next five years—over 212 million more people are likely to be out of a job by 2019 and many more trapped in vulnerable and precarious jobs—this goal reflects the concerns of Governments and people all over the world.

For the International Labour Organization (ILO) Goal 8 includes the following priorities:

  • full and productive employment and decent work
  • the gender pay gap youth unemployment
  • ending all forms of child labour formalizing the informal economy
  • entrepreneurship and micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises
  • protecting labour rights and promoting safe, secure working environments
  • migrant workers

Decent work priorities are also included in other goals. Technical and vocational skills are covered under Goal 4 on education, and social protection floors are discussed in Goal 1 on poverty.

Will all this actually translate into real changes in the realm of work? Despite amazing progress in certain areas, the preceding MDGs have a mixed record. So can the SDGs do better? The answer is that they must.

Showing results will be vital to sustain and advance the idea of multilateral cooperation. The new agenda will remain non-binding and voluntary. Nevertheless, it will influence key areas of policy, orient public opinion, steer official development assistance (ODA) and other development spending, and provide some benchmarks to gauge and review Governments’ choices. It will also set the direction for programming activities within the United Nations development system.

In terms of Goal 8 and the decent work agenda, what should we focus on? Here are some thoughts on three key areas.

Policy Changes at the Country Level

While the goals are global, each country will set its own national targets. Success will depend largely on action at the country level, driven mainly by the willingness of Governments to prioritize the goals and targets and adjust their policies. ILO advice will be available to inspire better policy design.

Demand will be strong in those areas that are singled out under the targets of Goal 8: social protection, skills, small and medium-sized enterprises, youth employment, child labour, labour rights, safe working conditions and migration. Comprehensive and effective national strategies for Goal 8, including employment and decent work, will also require diagnostic tools, solid indicators and new wisdom about trade-offs and synergies across different policy areas.

Strengthening national capacities and institutions will be important, starting with better collection and analysis of labour market statistics.  A “data revolution” demands innovative public and private initiatives to improve large-scale collection and dissemination of development statistics. ILO will be a player in this area.

Building competent and accountable national bureaucracies, as well as effective labour market institutions and organizations, must also be an ILO and post-2015 priority. It is now clear that multilateral cooperation works better when international agencies and Governments work alongside other bodies, such as civil society organizations, the private sector, local authorities and other stakeholders.

Representative organizations of employers and trade unions need to be involved in implementing the new agenda in order to ensure sound policy design and genuine monitoring, evaluation and accountability.

Global Partnerships

A supportive international environment will be essential to advance the post-2015 agenda, especially in the poorest countries. Yet global partnerships remain a delicate affair, an area where the MDGs have visibly failed.

The international context has changed, however. There are signs of a shift to a multipolar power constellation and innovations in institutions of global governance, such as the new role of the G20 and the proposed New Development Bank (formerly referred to as t he BR ICS Development Bank). ODA will remain essential to some developing countries and some sectors, but equally important will be improvement in the development orientation of the international frameworks for trade, finance, investment, technology, taxation, migration and the environment.

A significant move away from narrow Washington Consensus views is ongoing, and the economic and empirical arguments for this are compelling. Orthodox economists can no longer ignore the reasons for financial regulation, industrial policy, minimum wages, social security, progressive taxation and managing aggregate demand within a framework of long-run fiscal sustainability. However, this is not fully translating into tangible changes in national policy and political agendas, nor into more active global macroeconomic management.

ILO is purposely engaged in the policy debate within the G20. The post-2015 agenda should be seen as an additional arena, a supplementary channel to reach out to technocrats, politicians and the public at large. Regular thematic reviews of global progress in key areas will be one component of the future framework for the agenda’s implementation. This should open the door to work with sympathetic agencies to forge a solid consensus for the promotion of inclusive, sustainable and job-rich economic growth.

“Delivering As one”

Closer cooperation on the SDGs with sister agencies and perhaps international financial institutions will be a nitty-gritty preoccupation and will renew efforts to deliver as one United Nations system.

ILO’s tripartite nature sets us apart from the rest. We will have to adapt the way we operate while helping the wider United Nations system to appreciate the value of our distinctive approach. The experience gained so far in mainstreaming decent work shows that there is much to be gained and built upon, for both our global advocacy and our country-level operations.

To conclude, the potential of decent work as a driver of inclusive and sustainable development is well recognized in the post-2015 agenda so far. ILO will play an active role to ensure it leads to concrete changes.