A New Way of Working Is Needed to Sustain Development

The world of work has been changing. To sustain progress, countries must invest in and value various forms of work through policies and national strategies that create job opportunities, ensure workers’ rights and well-being and develop targeted actions. This is the proposition in the 2015 Human Development Report, launched on December 14 in Ethiopia.

Cambodia’s Human Development Index (HDI) value for 2014 is 0.555 and puts the country in the medium human development category. Between 1990 and 2014, Cambodia’s HDI value increased from 0.364 to 0.555, an increase of 52.4 percent or an average annual increase of about 1.77 percent. In terms of HDI components, Cambodia has registered improvements in life expectancy at birth, education and per capita income. Between 1980 and 2014, Cambodia’s life expectancy at birth increased by 40.9 years, mean years of schooling increased by 2.3 years and expected years of schooling increased by 4.2 years. Cambodia’s gross national income per capita increased by about 292.2 percent between 1990 and 2014. While expected and average years of schooling remain at the 2010 level, these could improve with the ongoing education reforms over the medium term that will be critical for the buildup of human capital and the quality of employment.

The report, titled “Work and Human Development,” takes a closer look at how work is intrinsic to human development. Work is not just about creating jobs. It provides incomes and livelihoods, reduces poverty and paves the way for equitable growth. When a country’s human capital increases—through enhanced health, knowledge, skills and awareness—it broadens workers’ opportunities that give them greater choices for meaningful, decent and sustainable work.

Currently, Cambodia’s predominantly low value-added manufacturing sector and a large informal sector limits opportunities for decent employment. It needs to take advantage of regional value chains that offer higher value-added jobs. The country’s socioeconomic policies contained in the Rectangular Strategy III prioritize equipping the workforce with technical skills and knowledge to boost their competitiveness in the regional labor market. This is particularly essential as Cambodia integrates with the Asean Economic Community.

With structural reforms in the education and employment sectors, and programs like the Technical, Vocational and Educational Training (TVET), the country can further develop its human capital. Currently, Cambodia’s share in its TVET program of workers achieving secondary school is only 2.3 percent, compared to 11.4 percent in Thailand and 18 percent in Indonesia, according to 2015 Unesco statistics.

On a bigger picture, about a third of the world working in agriculture, private enterprises and volunteer work have contributed to lifting more than 2 billion people globally out of low human development and more than a billion out of extreme poverty over the past 25 years.

How, when and where work is created is changing through globalization and the digital revolution. Digital technologies have paved the way for greater access to markets, goods and services while providing a multitude of work opportunities for highly skilled workers with Internet access.

But this can be a bane as well, as automation will make more types of work obsolete and offshoring will move jobs overseas.

The report argues that there is no automatic link between work and human development. Setting back progress are forced labor, child labor, hazardous work and unequal opportunities for women. The report proposes a renewed social contract between governments and the workforce to ensure workers’ rights to decent work and adequate social protection, both in the formal and informal sectors.

It is noteworthy that the report shows a global trend on how women are disadvantaged in the world of work. Men dominate the world of paid work while women are mostly engaged in unpaid work. Women who do get paid earn 24 percent less than men worldwide. To address the imbalance, new policies, institutional reforms and more equitable access to care services are urgently needed. These are especially crucial as women contribute 52 percent of global work.

In Cambodia, the Neary Rattanak IV, a five-year strategic plan for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women addresses this gender imbalance. The strategy espouses active engagement of relevant line ministries and economic actors in addressing the gender gaps in their economic, business and financial services. It also focuses on strengthening the Ministry of Women’s Affairs’ role in providing gender analysis, advocacy and policy advice, and as facilitator with line ministries at national and sub-national levels.

The vision of sustained human development through work can only be achieved with a strong set of policy options and an agenda for action. National strategies must focus on creating employment opportunities that are responsive to the changing world of work. These can include setting an employment target, formulating an employment-led growth strategy, financial inclusion, building a supportive macroeconomic framework, and providing workers with new skills and education.

To create a positive link between work and human development, policies must support workers’ rights, safety and well-being. Setting legislation and regulation, promoting collective action and trade unionism, and making workers’ rights to safety a cross-border issue are ways forward.

Finally, targeted actions are needed to balance care work, which women are heavily involved in, and unpaid work, as well as youth unemployment. Expanding gender-sensitive policies for female wage employment and increasing access to women in decision-making positions are important steps toward more equitable opportunities and participation among women.

Setsuko Yamazaki is the country director of the U.N. Development Program in Cambodia.

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