Employment: Development (sustainable) and work (decent) | Future Planet


Sustainable development, just transition, decent work and greening of the economy are current concepts. The question is to define them and try to convey in what they are specified. When we talk about this concept, we start from the one set out in the Brundtland report (1986), which defines it as “development that meets the needs of the present without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sustainable development is the basis of the 2030 Agenda, approved by the UN General Assembly in 2015, which has among its objectives “The eradication of poverty in all its forms and dimensions, the fight against inequality within and between countries, the preservation of the planet, the creation of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, and the promotion of social inclusion (that) are linked to each other and are interdependent ”. Thus, three dimensions are covered: economic, social and environmental, with an integrating and indivisible character.

To achieve this purpose, 17 objectives (SDGs) and 169 targets of global scope and universal application were established. Its achievement requires the participation of governments, the private sector, civil society, the United Nations system and other entities. Therefore, another characteristic of the 2030 Agenda is evident: the multilateralism necessary for its implementation.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) is essential for the fulfillment of Goal 8: promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, as well as employment and decent work for all. Their presence on the Agenda reflects the understanding of the international community that decent work is a means and an end to the achievement of the three dimensions mentioned.

Just transition

Achieving sustainable development requires a just transition, which can be defined as the process towards a neutral economy from the environmental, economic and social points of view. Regarding this just transition, two essential ideas:

  • It should not be reduced to mere aid, but needs the support of the administrations and the public and private sectors. In addition, it requires responsibility (individual and collective) to solve the problems that are caused in the regions and counties affected by the conversion towards green economies.
  • It must be planned and have clearly defined objectives. This requires a prior assessment of the local problem and the establishment of specific policies to provide long-term solutions to the consequences of this transformation.

Decent job

Juan Somavia, director general of the ILO between 1999 and 2012, was the one who coined the term decent job, which is one that “seeks to express what should be, in the globalized world, a good job or a decent job.” Its construction is based on four objectives linked to human dignity that are inseparable, interrelated and mutually reinforcing:

  • Employment opportunities: The promotion of employment in a sustainable environment, in which people can acquire and update their skills and competencies. It implies the sustainability of companies to make possible the generation of opportunities and prospects for employment and income for all (green jobs). The objective is that society can achieve its objectives of economic growth and social progress, and achieve a good standard of living.
  • Respect, promotion and application of fundamental principles and rights at work: Among them, the abolition of child labor, forced labor and human trafficking. It seeks to guarantee freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and eradicate discrimination based on gender, without leaving behind other vulnerable groups: young people, long-term unemployed, people with disabilities, immigrants and the elderly, some of the most affected by the covid-19 pandemic.
  • Social protection: It includes the extension of social security and the application of measures to provide basic income to those who need it. It seeks to improve the capacity to respond to the new needs and uncertainties generated by the rapidity of technological, social, demographic and economic changes. And regulate working conditions, guaranteeing health and safety, as well as wages and working hours.
  • Social dialogue and multilateralism: Adapt the application of the strategic objectives to the needs and circumstances of each country. Translate economic development into social progress and social progress into economic development. Facilitate consensus on national and international policies that affect employment and decent work strategies and programs. Promote the effectiveness of legislation and institutions, good industrial relations and the establishment of effective labor inspection systems.

Subject to decent work

The subject of decent work is every worker, both in the formal economy and in the informal economy. It includes employees, the self-employed, home and family workers, and members of cooperatives and units of the social economy. It also includes vulnerable groups that have so far not been able to access a job (ILO Centennial Declaration for the Future of Work).

In this sense, the subject of decent work is not so much the worker, but the person himself: the important thing is that the work is productive and provides him with the material means or economic goods he needs to survive.

In conclusion, decent work can be defined as that which is based on the dignity of the person and as an objective to establish how the job has to be and under what conditions it has to be performed. A job whose guarantee depends on sufficient social protection and for which social dialogue is necessary.

If we were able to move from servitude to the employment contract, we must now be able to move from the employment contract to decent work.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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