International Labor Office: How Could Cities Better Connect All Their Residents to Economic Opportunity?

By Edmundo Werna and Andres Mella

Dr. Edmundo Werna has worked for over 30 years on different aspects of urban development, with particular attention to labour. He has a PhD in urban development from the University of London (UK), an MPhil in development studies from the University of Sussex (UK), and a Bachelor's degree in urbanism and architecture from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil). Werna designed and implemented the urban development agenda of UNDP's UN Volunteers Programme. He also undertook consultancies for several organizations, including local governments, WHO, European Commission, the World Bank, UN-Habitat, UNCDF/UNDP and the ILO. He joined the International Labour Office in 2004. Andrés Mella is a lawyer and economist with research experience in urban development and labour economics. He is currently pursuing an internship at the International Labour Office at the Sectoral Activities Department where he works with Dr. Edmundo Werna in issues related to urban economy and rural-urban linkages. He has conducted research in several areas including the urban development of China, the urbanization of Chinese poverty, the challenges of capital liberalization and specifically the effects of foreign direct investment on workers' wages.

May 12, 2014 | Smart Cities | 0 comments


Who will you meet?

Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.

Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.


 

This blog post is a response to the Meeting of the Minds & Living Cities group blogging event which asks, “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.

1. Employment

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.

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

The Pandemic, Inequality, Housing Affordability, and Urban Land

The Pandemic, Inequality, Housing Affordability, and Urban Land

Since the Great Recession of 2008, the housing wealth gap has expanded to include not just Black and Brown Americans, but younger White Americans as well. Millennials and Generation Z Whites are now joining their Black and Brown peers in facing untenable housing precarity and blocked access to wealth. With wages stuck at 1980 levels and housing prices at least double (in inflation adjusted terms) what they were 40 years ago, many younger Americans, most with college degrees, are giving up on buying a home and even struggle to rent apartments suitable for raising a family.

What makes it hard for policy people and citizens to accept this truth is that we have not seen this problem in a very long time. Back in the 1920s of course, but not really since then. But this is actually an old problem that has come back to haunt us; a problem first articulated by Adam Smith in the 1700s.

Multi-modal Transit and the Public Realm

Multi-modal Transit and the Public Realm

More than ever, urban transit services are in need of sustainable and affordable solutions to better serve all members of our diverse communities, not least among them, those that are traditionally car-dependent. New mobility technologies can be a potential resource for local transit agencies to augment multi-modal connectivity across existing transit infrastructures.

We envision a new decentralized and distributed model that provides multi-modal access through nimble and flexible multi-modal Transit Districts, rather than through traditional, centralized, and often too expensive Multi-modal Transit Hubs. Working in collaboration with existing agencies, new micro-mobility technologies could provide greater and seamless access to existing transit infrastructure, while maximizing the potential of the public realm, creating an experience that many could enjoy beyond just catching the next bus or finding a scooter. So how would we go about it?

Cross Sectoral Partnerships Can Fight Human Trafficking

Cross Sectoral Partnerships Can Fight Human Trafficking

Dedicated anti-trafficking actors across the nation are trying to build better systems in big jurisdictions like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and in smaller but scrappy jurisdictions like Waco, Texas and Boaz, Alabama. They all share the same need, for stronger interconnectedness as an anti-trafficking field, and more collaboration.

The Forging Freedom Portal is a one-stop shop where a police officer planning a victim-centered operation can connect with their law enforcement counterparts, and the right service providers ahead of time, collaborating to make sure they’re planning for the language skills, social services, and legal support that victims may need. The portal is a place where the people who care most about ending human trafficking, who are doing the hard work every day on the ground, can learn from each other and share best practices to raise the collective standard of this work.

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up below to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Wait! Before You Leave —

Wait! Before You Leave —

Subscribe to receive updates on the Executive Cohort Program!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This