Promoting decent work in developing countries

15.12.2014 13.46
News item N5-65473
There are more unemployed people in the world today than at any time before. New jobs are badly needed. The 2013 disaster at the Bangladeshi textile factory in which over a thousand people died made it clear that the problem cannot be solved by just any sort of work.

"The International Labour Organisation's new flagship programme for developing countries aims to create decent work for developing countries. There is much occupational safety and health expertise in Finland, which is why we're involved as one of the programme's founding members," says Ministerial Advisor Wiking Husberg.

The ILO occupational safety and health (OSH) flagship programme aimed to aid developing countries has four general target areas: legislation and its monitoring, prevention and training, building effective tripartite (government and employers' and employees' organisations) dialogue and OSH financing. The ILO and the founding countries, which in addition to Finland are the US and South Korea, will define the goals of the programme in greater detail.

Rare opportunityHusberg explains that the programme had an exceptional starting point as an initiative of the G20, which indicated the increasing understanding of the importance of the OSH. The creation of safe and healthy work environments is now understood as the means to improve the quality of work and productivity. It is not merely a cost item.

The projects's other key dimension concerns human rights. "Occupational safety is regarded as a basic human right, the implementation of which is not just up to governments but the whole international community. It is morally wrong to buy products that people have had to produce on starvation wages or in mortally dangerous conditions."

Husberg says that Finland can be proud that it is involved in influencing the realisation of the programme's goals worldwide. He sees Finland as well placed to develop dialogue on improving work conditions in the context of the programme's four objectives.

"We have good expertise in establishing dialogue and creating structures for it. Although ILO agreements already include the tripartite model and the creation of occupational safety and health committees, putting tem into practice still requires much effort."

Drawing on local analysesThe ILO's 2006 Promotional Framework for Occupational safety and Health Convention provides a roadmap that also the new programme can start to implement.

"The first step is to draw up a country profile through tripartite cooperation. This will analyse the need for changes in legislation, the information needed for applying laws and the supervision of comliance with regulations. This way, based on descriptions of existing strengths and weaknesses, it will be possible to develop a national occupational safety and health programme that spells out the measures that are required, the parties that will carry them out, and the financing of the endeavour," Husberg explains.

To begin with, the new OSH programme will only involve countries where OSH is seen as important at a tripartite level. Finland has suggested that initially its partner countries could be Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania. All three have had long-standing relationships with Finland in the area of overseas development aid.

In Zambia Finland is currently funding the Green Jobs programme, which focusses on building ecologically sustainable small-scale housing. This includes an OSH segment, which Husberg says can be broadened to include other fields of production. In Mozanbique, 90 per cent of the labourforce is involved in small-holding agriculture, which means that improving working conditions requires the active involvement of village communities. In Tanzania, meanwhile, the OSH system has deteriorated, and therefore will be restarted using the new ILO programme.

"The basis for the work is what each country itself considers necessary. The programme will begin in a few countries that have partnerships with the founding countries, but later on the ILO will expand its role appreciably," says Husberg.

Message to decision-makersSome 2.3 million people die each year from occupational injuries and diseases. Despite this, there are still countries where the unionisation of labour is not allowed and where there are also no employers' organisations. Husberg notes that such countries will not be involved in initial phase of the new ILO programme.

"In terms of achieving results, it is better to go to countries where the issue has already been considered and approved. But we also want to put out the message that everyone is entitled to decent work. With the G20 also behind that message, it becomes difficult to ignore."

Text: Paula Mannonen & Mark Weller