The Future of Work in Least Developed Countries

The COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging labour markets around the world. Global trends such as globalisation, demographic shifts, climate change and technology have already brought profound shifts to the world of work, and the pandemic has accelerated changes. 

Some advanced economies have been able to respond rapidly to adjust, and even take advantage, of these shifts. For some, the pandemic has generated not only new challenges but new opportunities for job creation. These countries stand ready to benefit from the spread of remote working arrangements, increasing automation and changes in international manufacturing. 

But, as with many issues, the Least Developed Countries have struggled most to overcome deep-rooted and pre-existing vulnerabilities, and risk being left even further behind. LDCs often have limited cash to respond to crises, less and poorer technology available to work with and degraded environments. Their growing youth populations must be also absorbed by already fragile labour markets.  

As we enter the last ten years of the 2030 Agenda and begin preparations for the Fifth United Nations Conference on the LDCs (LDC5), where a new Programme of Action for LDCs will be agreed, OHRLLS and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) held a global event on November 19, 2020 to reflect on the actions required at national and international levels to overcome these vulnerabilities and achieve a promising future of work in the LDCs. 

The event brought together governments, policymakers, researchers and others to hear about the impact of COVID-19 on labour markets in LDCs and propose policy frameworks to foster recovery and build future resilience. The ILO presented the alarming impact of the effect of COVID-19 on the labour market in LDCs and suggested policy options to consider as the world prepares for LDC5. 

Laying out the situation on the ground, H.E Perks Ligoya, Permanent Representative of Malawi to the United Nations and Chair of the LDC Group, said that, LDCs have suffered the collapse of exports and tourism resulting in “a perfect tsunami of unemployment”. To compound the problem, migrant workers from LDCs are also losing their jobs, resulting in a huge loss of remittances. The end result, he said, is an increase in debt burdens and “the greatest economic crisis in decades”. 

Calling for investment in digital connectivity as a vital lifeline in connecting economies, Ambassador Ligoya also called for investment in “decent work” and for the IMF and other Multilateral Development Banks to meet historical commitments and cancel all debts. 

The High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu, called for the issue of employment to be reflected at the heart of the next programme of action for LDCs. “Generating decent jobs at a time where the future of work is shifting will be critical to the ability of the LDCs to achieve an inclusive and sustainable development in the decade to come,” she said. 

Moussa Oumarou, Deputy Director-General for Field Operations and Partnerships at ILO, called for the international community to advance opportunities for decent work that “provides just remuneration, ensures basic rights at work, provides adequate social protection, and the capacity to negotiate and develop work-related policies through social dialogue.”  

He said that the right mix of policies to create a conducive environment for people to work themselves out of poverty is the most decent and sustainable way to avoid the deep scars on jobs and incomes resulting from the pandemic. 

Speaking on behalf of the Host Country of the LDC5 Conference, HE Permanent Representative of Qatar to the United Nations, Sheikha Alya Ahmed bin Saif Al-Thani, said that she hoped the Conference "builds a vision to help the 880m people in LDCs on a path to sustainable development” and delivers a “promising a future of work”. 

She added that Qatar looks forward to working closely with OHRLLS and the ILO to further strengthen cooperation in 2021 as the world prepares for LDC5.