Public Perception on Dignity of Labour

In the Context of Youth Employment in Province 2 and 5

ABSTRACT

A meaningful and gainful integration of youths in labour market is often indicated to play a critical role in the social and economic development of the country. However, lower-income countries including Nepal face an overwhelming challenge to fulfil the demands of labour market to provide employment opportunities to working age group or youth population that continues to dominate the demographic structure. Nepal’s National Youth Policy 2010 defines youths as ‘women, men and third gender of 16-40 age groups’. The unemployment rate as per the latest Nepal Labour Force Survey (2017/18) is at 11.4 per cent. Nepal has a total population of about 29 million out of which 20.7 million belong to working age population. Studies conducted in the past have shown disproportionate relationship between youth and labour market in Nepal leading to exodus of youths in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Malaysia for foreign employment. Furthermore, Nepal’s already sluggish economic growth is further compounded by the outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) due to which the growth rate is predicted to drop within a range of 1.5-2.8 per cent in the fiscal year 2020. Hence, the country’s precarious domestic labour market runs the risk of failing to provide sustainable job opportunities now more than ever. This is especially acute in the informal sector.

The research employs qualitative research methodologies namely key informant interviews, focused group discussions and informal conversation with government officials, employers and employees including youth entrepreneurs and other relevant stakeholders in exploring perception of dignity of labour in the existing domestic labour industry in Province 2 and 5. Second, the Prime Minister’s Employment Program (PMEP) is analysed to delve into the dynamic interpretation and perception of dignity labour. Third, structural barriers such as gender-based differences are identified and examined concerning the engagement of youths in the labour market. Lastly, policy and implementation gaps are evaluated for facilitating better integration of youths in the domestic labour market that relates to dignity in labour. Besides the already existing challenges, our study attempts to explore further challenges, if any, experienced by the youths in the domestic employment industry.

FINDINGS

  • Our findings suggest that the dignity of labour is challenging to uphold in a society where the labour market is segregated and certain occupations are stigmatized. The ideal job that educated youths deem fit for them is behind the desk. Youths would rather opt for low-paying jobs in schools than take up jobs in agriculture sector or livestock farms that are usually valued less even though they may offer better paycheck. FGD youth respondents were of the opinion that they would rather choose to migrate than engage in work sector that is neither respectable nor gainful.
  • Labour market is fraught with negative social and cultural mindset where work is looked at in binaries of good and bad, big and small, and desk work and labour work. This is specifically true in agriculture, livestock and construction sector. Overall, respondents were noted to have opined that sustainable work coupled with better incentives and social protection such as insurance, bonus, wages, and better working conditions would help change such perceptions and ensure dignity of labour.
  • In absence of a suitable job market, youths in general showed apathy towards system where patronage, connection and nepotism and favouritism determined their successful career trajectories. Although, youths opined that this may not always be the case they were aware that it was very much in practice. Additionally, youth respondents from Province 2 pointed out that due to industries shutting down the scope of local employment has narrowed down for educated youths.
  • Gender disparity in terms of female workforce participation and paycheck continues to prevail in the workplace. It was noted that the professional relationships between men and women was viewed in the light of suspicion and negative scrutiny. Even though there were various entrepreneurial trainings offered to both men and women at provincial level due to lack of resource and funding women were especially not able to put the skills and training in practice. Loans were not easily accessible to women, which eventually discouraged them from actively participating in the workforce. Women respondents said workplaces need to accommodate the needs of women by setting up breastfeeding rooms at workplaces.
  • However, there were notable changes in how youth entrepreneurs viewed dignity of labour as opposed to educated youths. They associated dignity of labour with one’s ability to work hard, take leadership and innovate that would not only lead to self-employment but also creation of jobs. They were of opinion that educational degree should not be an obstacle in starting enterprises.
  • On the other hand, workers in the informal sector found themselves without bargaining power, oppressed and unjust. They were reported to have been overburdened with work with little to no say in any matters related to their labour rights including wages.

Working Definition of Dignity of Labour

Dignity of labour means being able to partake in the work/profession that is respectable and free of harmful and negative societal norms, stereotypes and beliefs where equal wages is protected irrespective of one’s sex, gender, caste/ethnicity and geographical location, and that which not only suits one’s education qualifications but also ensures gainful remuneration in addition to social protection that enables him/her to live a meaningful and respectable life among his family members, friends and community.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Careful and creative messaging about employment programmes such as PMEP should be done to not only reach and cater to the targeted population of the programme but also to minimize the occupational stigma attached to work included in such initiatives.
  • Create awareness about various government employment and skill building programmes including other technical and financial support available at the local level in order to cater to right section of population.
  • Diversify employment programmes in order to tap the potential of educated youths for long-term sustainable employability while promoting dignity of labour.
  • Incentivize all professions with health and safety insurance, bonus, decent wages, and social security to ensure dignity of labour to break the negative social and cultural mindset especially related to certain professions/sectors.
  • Introduce and incorporate ‘dignity of labour’ in school curriculum at all levels of education system in Nepal to promote and inculcate positive understanding of different work/profession.
  • Create programs and platforms to match people’s employment skills and education qualifications with suitable and relevant work opportunities/industries/sectors, etc. at local, provincial and federal level.