SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

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Inclusive economies, social dialogue, and value alignment

Roughly half the world’s population still lives on the equivalent of about $2 a day, unable to maintain a decent standard of living. In too many places, having a job does not guarantee the ability to escape from the cycle of poverty, with informal and non-permanent employment remaining wide-spread issues in many national economies. Substandard working conditions are often connected to poverty, inequality, and discrimination. Certain groups – such as workers with disabilities, female workers, youth, and migrants – tend to face more obstacles in accessing decent work and may be particularly vulnerable to abuses.

Putting job creation at the heart of economic policymaking and development plans allows not only the generation of decent work opportunities but also of more robust, inclusive, and poverty-reducing growth, thus leading to a cycle that benefits the economy as well as people and ultimately drives sustainable development. SDG 8 aims to achieve full and productive employment, as well as decent working conditions, for all women and men by 2030.

Global employment facts and figures

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), employment growth since 2008 has averaged only 0.1% annually, compared with 0.9% between 2000 and 2007. In 2019, more than 212 million people were unemployed. To keep pace with the growth of the working age population, 600 million new jobs need to be created by 2030. Employment in the informal sector leaves workers at risk: Over 60% of all workers lack any kind of employment contract and fewer than 45% (with a declining trend) of wage and salaried workers are employed on a full-time, permanent basis.

Progress in reducing unemployment globally is not being matched by improvements in the quality of work, however, SDG 8 is not just about full employment, but also about the quality of that employment. Poor quality employment is the main issue for global labour markets, with millions of people forced to accept inadequate working conditions. According to the ILO director general, “promoting jobs and enterprise, guaranteeing rights at work, extending social protection and promoting social dialogue are the four pillars of the ILO Decent Work Agenda with gender as a cross-cutting theme”.

Another issue is the lack of progress in closing the gender gap in labour force participation. In 2019, only 48% of women were in the labour force, compared to 75% of men. Women also make up far more of the underutilized labour force. Also of concern is that more than one in five young people under the age of 25 are not in employment, education or training, compromising their future employment prospects.

Vulnerability of migrant laborers

One aspect of decent working conditions carrying significant relevance in the context of the Gulf economies is the issue of recruiting migrant workers. Migrant workers are often susceptible to unfair recruitment and hiring practices, leaving them highly vulnerable to exploitation. For many, the debt burden they carry from excessive recruitment fees and migration costs worsens this vulnerability and can lead to debt bondage and forced labour. Responsible businesses are called upon to take action to address such exploitative practices and their associated risk to labour abuse. Cues can be taken from relevant international standards and multi-stakeholder initiatives to serve as resources and implementation guidelines.

In GCC countries, on average more than half of all workers are migrants. For the entire Arab region, the number is slightly lower, as migrant workers account for 41% of total regional employment. Regional unemployment has remained stable at around 7% (higher that the world average of around 5%), with unemployment in non-GCC states reaching double that of the GCC. The women’s unemployment rate, at 15%, is three times that of men. Youth are also disproportionately affected, their unemployment rate being four times the adult rate.

The business case for decent work

Enterprises are engines for job creation and economic growth, naturally fostering economic activity through their value chain. Decent working conditions benefit both business and society. Companies that uphold labour standards across their own operations and value chains face lower risk of reputational damage and legal liability. Non-discriminatory practices, workforce diversity, and inclusion increase a company’s access to skilled, productive talent. The elimination of forced, compulsory, or child labour, however, is a standard derived from human rights declarations and children’s rights that every business should hold itself accountable to, and which gain in significance when global supply chains exist.



Implementation of SDG 8 in the UAE

The UAE has achieved high rates of economic growth and stability over the past decades, which has led to large-scale job creation for local and foreign workers. According to the Central Bank, remittances by foreign workers in the UAE amounted $43.81 billion in 2016, thus raising the standards of living of the people in the recipient countries. In recent years, the UAE made significant efforts to develop laws, policies, and awareness campaigns to enhance work conditions of employees across the public and private sectors. The UAE Vision 2021 focuses on the country’s transition to a knowledge-based economy that promotes innovation, research, and development.

The Global Competitiveness Report 2017/18 by the World Economic Forum ranked the UAE second for their capacity to attract and retain talent. Dependence on foreign talent is, however, still a challenge to date. To further increase labour force productivity and participation, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MOHRE) seeks to ensure that UAE nationals maximise their skills and professional development opportunities.

Recent initiatives include support for career planning, private sector partnerships to enable a smooth transition from tertiary study to employment, programmes to promote an entrepreneurial culture, and regulatory measures to better balance benefits between public and private sector (most importantly maternity and unemployment benefits). During its transition to a knowledge economy, the government continues to strive to attract overseas talent in key value-added industries such as information technology, R&D, high value-added manufacturing, health, and medicine related fields. With aspirations in sectors such as space, artificial intelligence and smart cities, the UAE seeks not only to provide a place for the best international talent but also to develop the skills of its domestic workforce.

To protect workers’ rights and promote a secure working environment, access to complaints services is continuously improved, as well as education of the workforce on their rights and the legal options available to them is advanced. This includes enhancing the enforcement of labour laws in the country and the availability of Comprehensive Information and Orientation Programmes (CIOP) prior to arrival into the country.

MOHRE has also initiated the Abu Dhabi Dialogue in partnership with other GCC countries and common countries of origin of expatriate workers. The aim is to improve transparency of information on worker rights and addresses potential human trafficking between the GCC and South Asia.

Careem trains and hires female drivers in Saudi Arabia

Careem trains and hires female drivers in Saudi Arabia

Example for local corporate engagement: Careem

Established in 2012, Careem is the largest mobility provider in the Middle East, operating in more than 100 cities across 13 countries. In terms of business conduct, Careem’s strategic focus centres around three key areas, education, employment, and technology, which the company ties to the SDGs 4 (quality of education), 8 (decent work), and 13 (climate action).

Since the company’s launch, Careem has created jobs for over 1 million male and female captains across the region, enabling them to earn a decent income. In addition, Careem provides opportunities for the captains’ development and education. By partnering with blue chip companies and coaches, Careem organizes courses on personal and business finance planning, as well as health and wellbeing. Moreover, in partnership with NYU Abu Dhabi, Careem has deployed financial literacy courses for its captains. When the shift to self-driving cars occurs, Careem hopes to provide new job opportunities for its captains in the monitoring and maintenance of driverless cars, and in related fields.

The company culture, labelled the “Careem Operating System”, reflects the eight principles that provide the framework for collaboration, team organization, decision making, performance expectations, and company core values. The principles centre around shared goals, appreciation and recognition, ownership, and progress derived from continuous improvement, and apply not only to the captains but the entire company, seeking to create a rewarding, stimulating, and respectful place to work.

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Carolin Hussein

Carolin started her career at a grassroots NGO in Cairo working on various projects ranging from economic development and community empowerment to health and social inclusion.

Since coming to the UAE in 2009, Carolin has balanced working at the country’s biggest German-speaking publication and completing her Master’s degree in Sustainable Development Cooperation.

Carolin’s goal is to make a difference for the public. For her that means working on a few key issues, with an emphasis on social and environmental projects that can foster new ideas, establish cross-sectoral partnerships, and achieve tangible results that serve the public interest.

Carolin joined Goumbook in 2020.