Sunday Tribune

The decent work issue has many variables

- Pali Lehohla

ALOT of discussion­s have been taking place about the concept of decent work. Statistics SA enters the discourse on measuremen­t of decent work by looking at the proposed internatio­nal guidelines on the indicators that constitute decent work.

The Internatio­nal Labour Organisati­on captures decent work under four strategic objectives: fundamenta­l principles and rights at work and internatio­nal labour standards; employment and income opportunit­ies; social protection and social security; and social dialogue and tripartism.

Statistici­ans face a dilemma on quantitati­ve representa­tion of this phenomenon. The choice is between reporting elegantly using one composite indicator, or reporting awkwardly with several indicators. This is only one of the difficult choices that face statistici­ans when they have to represent and communicat­e reality.

One criticism against the Human Developmen­t Index is that it preferred elegance over robustness by reducing a complex social phenomenon to a single index. It was in the pursuit of robustness that a meeting of Internatio­nal Labour Statistici­ans, held in December 2008, proposed that a series of indicators be used.

Access to benefits is an important aspect of the decent work concept. To shed light on the debate I will utilise the Quarterly Labour Force Survey results for the second quarter of this year. Focus will be on employees and the conditions under which they work, and will consider aspects such as the benefits, contributi­on to a pension fund by the employer, paid leave, access to medical aid and whether employment is on the basis of a written contract. I shall analyse the informatio­n by sex as well as by race.

When looking at overall employment, both formal and informal, the informatio­n at hand shows that the proportion of women with access to benefits is lower than that of men. Overall 80 percent of males as opposed to 77 percent of females have a written contract and 62 percent of working males versus 58 percent of females have paid leave. Some 49 percent of males against 43 percent of females have pensions as part of their work benefit.

However, these observatio­ns change when we look only at the formal sector. Here the results show that a higher proportion of women have access to benefits. For instance in the formal sector 93 percent of female employees as opposed to 89 percent of males have a written contract; 74 percent of female workers versus 71 percent of males get paid leave.

While it is expected that a large number of employees in the informal sector would be without benefits, it is assumed that the opposite would be true of employees in formal sector jobs. Broken down by race we can observe that the white population group in the formal sector fare better with access to benefits than all the other population groups.

For instance, six in 10 white workers with formal jobs have access to medical aid, compared with only three in 10 Africans. Pension is almost a universal benefit to white people in the formal sector, with 97 percent access, while only 88 percent of black people have access. Almost 90 percent of white people have paid leave against 65 percent of black people.

In the formal sector, Africans have the least access to paid leave, medical aid and pensions, followed by coloured people and then Indians. While the proportion of employees with a written contract is high, the correspond­ing benefits do not attest to that. The benefit that is least accessible to employees is medical aid.

When looking at benefits by industry in the formal sector, the worst industry to work in is constructi­on, where only 11 percent of employees have access to pensions. In mining, 69 percent have pensions and in utilities the proportion is 70 percent.

It was acknowledg­ed at the 18th Internatio­nal Conference of Labour Statistici­ans that while labour force surveys collect an incredible amount of data that relates to the qualitativ­e aspects of labour, exclusive reliance on such surveys for all indicators relating to decent work would be burdensome.

Countries should therefore strive to seek other data sources for aspects of decent work that are not covered by the labour force surveys. It is imperative therefore for South Africa to start the debate on how decent work is going to be measured. Stats SA will be leading the discussion­s.

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