Pursuing Decent Work in the Informal Sector: Understanding employers’ views on decent work principles in the informal sector in Rangpur and Barisal, Bangladesh

Publication date

14 Feb 2019

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The Empower Youth for Work (EYW) programme in Bangladesh aims to make a positive impact on the lives of young women and men by improving employment or entrepreneurship opportunities. Oxfam’s local partner organizations are working to support young men and women to gain employment, which in this context is mainly available in the informal sector. However, ensuring decent work in these jobs is challenging. The informal sector is not organized in a way that enables it to focus on the aspirations of employees in their working lives. Therefore we wanted to gain an insight into the opinions, attitudes and practices of employers in the informal sector, in terms of the challenges and opportunities in creating decent work, both in their own organization and in their area of business (or ‘sector’).

In total, 32 interviews were carried out with employers in 10 different sectors. This report shows the patterns that emerge across the whole group of respondents and, where possible, we disaggregate by sector and region. This provides the EYW programme in Bangladesh with an overall picture of the role that principles related to decent work can play in the informal sector – based on first-hand testimony from employers.

We know that ‘decent work’ is a broad term that includes multiple aspects of work. However, the research shows that employers in the informal sector of Bangladesh have a narrow definition of decent work. They emphasize aspects related to work environment, safety, hygiene and health as the responsibility of the employer. In discussing these aspects, they focus on their own company’s practices rather than formal policies and standards. Therefore, it is important for the EYW programme in Bangladesh to take a practical angle, to relate to the way in which employers consider safety and security at work, rather than focusing on formal rules and regulations.

Employers link decent wages to what is reasonable in relation to the profit a company makes. Equality in remuneration is linked to skills of workers, and not to age or gender. However, women are often seen as less skilled and therefore less able to perform certain (higher-paid) jobs. Hence, influencing the informal sector on decent wages may be more effective when national standards are linked to relevant skills and competences.

Equal opportunities and treatment of all women and men is not yet an issue considered by employers in the informal sector. They only view it from a protection angle, which sometimes even leads to discrimination against female workers. For EYW in Bangladesh, this is an important aspect to raise awareness on. Youth influencers feel that focusing on equal opportunities for young women and men in their influencing towards the informal sector can do the most to strengthen the EYW training programme. In doing so, it is important to take a context-specific approach, respecting the safety of women at work.