International Labor Office: How Could Cities Better Connect All Their Residents to Economic Opportunity?
Cities and towns are the engines of economic growth, and economic growth is intrinsically connected to labour. To fully realize their potential and achieve sustainable and equitable growth, cities and towns need to address many labour-related deficits across different sectors of the urban economy. Cities and towns will not be sustainable if the livelihoods of their inhabitants are not addressed. This phenomenon is especially true in the countries of the South where poverty is widespread, and is increasingly outpacing poverty in rural areas. Poverty as such is related to deficits in the four dimensions of decent work, a concept used by the International Labour Organization and others to identify the different aspects of labour: employment, workers’ rights, social protection and social dialogue.
The rapid growth of urban populations is outpacing employment opportunities. Different levels of government can play a role in addressing this challenge, but the role of the local government is particularly important. There is a great deal that local governments can do – directly and via forging public private partnerships – to promote employment creation: invest in the built environment and upgrading of infrastructural facilities like roads, drainage, water and energy facilities, sewerage systems, public buildings, and public transport and waste management & recycling establishments, among others. Such investment can stimulate local economies, result in immediate employment gains, and have long term impact on income, and living and working conditions. Local governments can also encourage job growth—and enforce better employment conditions—in other sectors in which they are not directly involved, by supporting private entrepreneurship, especially micro and small enterprises which are responsible for a significant proportion of urban employment. Investment in training in the different sectors of the urban economy and dealing with informality is also fundamental for employment creation.
2. Workers’ Rights
Many urban workers still face challenges related to their rights. Their inability to secure their rights has practical implications for their living and working conditions—and productivity. Examples of issues related to workers’ rights in urban areas include informality, casualisation, child labour, bonded labour and the situation of migrant workers.
To address workers’ rights, there are many possible lines of actions related to different groups of workers, based on various ILO conventions, recommendations, and instruments. There are instruments for each aspect of decent work, including workers’ rights, for which broader synergies can be explored. There is a burgeoning international movement on “the right to the city” which gives specific attention to community and consumers’ rights. Workers’ rights also fit within this movement, and should be promoted. To this end, there are embryonic examples of coalitions of urban workers (in Brazil for example) and there are specific initiatives related to the rights of urban citizens to a better environment supporting a green economy. Promotion of a better urban environment and promotion of the rights of urban workers can reinforce each other.
3. Social Protection
Social protection also needs to be addressed in order to ensure sustainable urban development. Inappropriate working and living conditions expose many urban workers to risk on a daily basis. To give one example, workers in major urban sectors such as construction, transport and waste management, among others, face serious occupational health and safety risks both due to the inadequacy of the existing occupational safety and health management systems and the impact of technological change. Also, a large number of urban workers are poor and live in neighbourhoods with inadequate sanitation and housing conditions. In addition, numerous urban workers do not have access to an adequate system of health care, pay for holidays, and protection against loss of pay when they are unable to work due to unemployment, illness, accidents or old age.
ILO instruments provide a sound basis for action, many of which specifically correspond to social protection. In addition to this, poor people have at times mobilized their own resources and organized their own risk protection through mutual health protection and community surveillance (support should be given to such initiatives). There are also examples of partnership practices involving local governments, the local private sector and communities.
4. Social Dialogue
The fourth dimension of decent work, social dialogue, is an important means for workers, employers and the government to jointly discuss solutions to the problems noted before. It is necessary to address the barriers which have hindered social dialogue in urban areas. There are some cases of good practice of urban multi-sectoral dialogue around the globe, including Marikina (Philippines), the municipal decent work programmes in Belo Horizonte, and a number of towns in the metropolitan region of Sao Paulo (Brazil).
While commendable research and action on different urban labour-related issues already exist, such research and action have nonetheless often focused on a limited number of specific aspects and need to be strengthened and scaled-up. In other words, more needs to be done to integrate the different aspects, given the number and magnitude of labour-related challenges that still exist in urban areas. There is a need for more research and practice.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Read more from the Meeting of the Minds Blog
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
The Environmental Impact Bond. It can be used to finance green infrastructure and similar resiliency-oriented projects, which not only protect cities against flooding and pollution, but also create jobs and green underserved neighborhoods. The return to investors of these projects is based on the extent to which the projects produce results; such as the amount of stormwater diverted from flowing into nearby rivers.
To plan for the transition to automated vehicles, cities and county governments should develop building and zoning codes that not only accommodate adaptable parking but encourage it by design. This can include amending building codes to require infrastructure that makes transforming garages into inhabitable buildings possible. As automated vehicles begin to enter the marketplace, cities should consider incentives and other programs to begin the conversion of ground level parking to commercial uses.
For much of the twentieth century, transportation planning focused on moving cars as efficiently as possible. This resulted in streets that are designed for cars, with little room for transit vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. Agencies in charge of roads, signals, parking, taxis and transit need to collaborate more closely to focus on moving people, not just vehicles, as efficiently as possible.
Focusing on all the elements that matters to people not just travel time – It is clear that people travelling across the region have high expectations and want to have consistent, reliable, convenient, clean and low-cost travel options regardless of their preferred mode and what municipal boundaries they cross. People care little about what system they are on or who operates it—they simply want to get where they are going as quickly, comfortably and reliably as possible.