International Partnerships

Employment and decent work

Increasing employment and ensuring decent work for all are essential aspects of sustainable development. Quality employment and decent work conditions help reduce inequalities and poverty, and empower people, especially women, young people and the most vulnerable such as people with disabilities. We therefore support our partner countries in creating and promoting jobs that provide decent earnings, ensuring safe working conditions, providing social protection, and safeguarding workers’ rights.

What is decent work?

The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines decent work as “productive work for women and men in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity”.

In general, work is considered as decent when:

  • it pays a fair income
  • it guarantees a secure form of employment and safe working conditions
  • it ensures equal opportunities and treatment for all
  • it includes social protection for the workers and their families
  • it offers prospects for personal development and encourages social integration
  • workers are free to express their concerns and to organise


Employment challenges in developing countries

Unemployment statistics do not reflect the full picture, in most partner countries, people can’t afford not to work. People accept precarious jobs when they can’t find decent ones or are self-employed with extremely low incomes.

Therefore, precarious employment and under-employment are the main issues in developing countries: 1.4 billion people work in vulnerable or informal employment. To survive, people accept to work in bad conditions, at low productivity rates, in jobs with high turnovers and low incomes, and no social security. They even accept to be underemployed and combine several jobs to try to make ends meet. The result is a high proportion of working poor in developing countries.

Informal work seems to be the norm in most developing countries, with women and children being the most exposed. Informal work represents more than 50% of non-agricultural employment in most regions of the developing world: 82% in South Asia, 66% in Sub-Saharan Africa, 65% in East and Southeast Asia, and 51% in Latin America.

Our policy approach

These challenges are common to most developing countries, but there are specificities per region:

  • In the Middle East and North Africa, labour migration is very common, working conditions are usually poor, there is a strong skill mismatch because of low-quality education systems, conservatism restricts women participation in the labour market, jobs are more often awarded based on connections than merits, economic growth is usually led by government, with a weak private sector and a lack of economic dynamism.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, social protection is rare, employment is usually precarious, child labour is important, and most jobs are informal - over 80% of jobs are in family agriculture or non-agricultural self-employment (household enterprises). The region has the highest rates of working poor and the world’s lowest school enrolment and educational achievement levels.
  • In Latin America and the Caribbean, there is a growing labour force, but mainly composed of young people and women which are absorbed by the informal sector. The share of informal jobs remains high and the region holds the highest rates of people not in education, employment or training (NEETs) in low-income groups. Turnover rates and high labour migration is a common phenomenon.
  • In Asia and the Pacific, female labour force participation is low, precarious and informal employment remains high, with South Asia holding the highest rates of informal employment in the world, youth unemployment is high, and there are important and worsening income disparities. Moreover, the region is faced with the challenge of absorbing a lot of migrant workers.
  • In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, labour force participation is low and unemployment is generally high, especially among young people, women, and ethnic minorities.

It is therefore essential to foster the creation of secure and decent jobs, taking into account demographic and regional trends and guaranteeing every worker’s rights.

The Decent Work Agenda was formulated by the ILO in 1999. Later, at the 2005 UN World Summit, countries agreed to make employment and decent work for all a central objective of development strategies to support fair globalisation. And in 2014, the G20 declared employment creation as its priority objective.

Decent work explicitly entered the European development agenda in 2006, with the first European Consensus on Development stating that “the EU will contribute to strengthening the social dimension of globalisation, promoting employment and decent work for all” and the European Commission communication ‘Promoting decent work for all’ calling on other EU institutions, EU countries, social partners, and all those involved to work together to promote decent work for all in the world. With the 2011 Agenda for Change, the EU’s emphasis on employment promotion was even further strengthened.

In 2017, the European Consensus on Development aligned the EU’s development policy with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which dedicates its 8th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG8) specifically to ensuring full, productive, and decent employment, universally (everywhere in the world) and inclusively (leaving no one behind).

Our priorities

On this basis, our development agenda on employment and decent work focuses on 4 priority areas:

  • Maximise decent job creation, supporting job-rich growth
  • Improve the quality of existing jobs in terms of earnings and working conditions, both in the formal and informal economy
  • Increase the access to decent jobs, particularly of the most vulnerable, through improved employability based on better education and training, responsing to private sector needs and through efficient labour market policies
  • Mainstream employment in all economic policies and programmes, as well as in other sectors (agriculture, energy, health, gender equality, etc.)

Since promoting employment and decent work is by nature multidimensional and at the interplay of multiple policy domains, we strive to ensure policy coherence and development effectiveness throughout all our efforts.

Benefits of promoting employment and decent work

Promoting employment and ensuring decent work for all can have a tremendous impact on individuals and communities. Benefits include:

Improved living standards

With work being the main source of income, creating jobs can increase material well-being, family stability, and create a virtuous cycle of poverty reduction. Having a decent job and a social protection coverage can provide people with a sense of dignity and eventually lead to their social inclusion.

Raised productivity

Jobs allow for the production of goods and services in the economy and the transition from low to high productivity has proven to lead to economic growth for society as a whole. Moreover, decent work ensures inclusive growth, with fair wages and equal opportunities for all. But to create decent job opportunities, skills must efficiently match market needs, with targeted quality education and training programmes in cooperation with government and private sector.

Social cohesion

Joblessness is often seen by the public as being linked to weak democracy. Unemployment and poor working conditions breed frustration and a sense of social injustice. This is especially true for young people: one risk of feeling excluded from civic participation or community activities can be that young people turn towards violent groups and civil unrest.

Promoting employment and decent jobs helps build public trust and encourages civic engagement, especially as employment helps fight social isolation. When people are engaged in a decent job and enjoy labour rights, they feel part of the community.