New British Academy-funded research identifies policy pathways to decent work

1 Mar 2022

Researchers in the UK and Vietnam have identified opportunities for policymakers to deliver fairer workplace incomes as well as better workplace conditions and prospects for young people from ethnic minorities. The researchers outline their recommendations for policymakers to improve educational, work and employment systems and deliver Decent Work in three new policy briefings published by the British Academy.

The “Re-WORK” study in Vietnam is based on survey and interview data and trialled an innovative policymaking approach, “appreciative inquiry”, which helps to introduce the voices and perspectives of young people belonging to ethnic minorities into policy design. It is part of the British Academy’s Youth Futures programme funded by the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

Findings and recommendations from the Re-WORK study include:

  • New research into the effectiveness of policy interventions targeting Decent Work can fill a gap in evidence and understanding among policymakers and institutions, which is currently skewed toward majority groups in urban places.
  • Research shows that young people from minority ethnic backgrounds in Vietnam experience significant structural inequalities which means they are vulnerable to low employment prospects and precarious work circumstances.
  • Embedding knowledge of local issues and opportunities into policy interventions is a valuable way to build on Vietnam’s national economic and social policies targeting Decent Work, which reflects different local employment and living conditions.
  • Empowering people to influence their own work and employment situation, in addition to their knowledge and skills, can improve access to – and engagement – in Decent Work.
  • Building knowledge, skills and confidence in minority ethnic young people with a long history of marginalisation is also crucial to encouraging them to impart their perspective on policy.
  • Focusing on the use of social networks to help people engage in Decent Work has been found to be particularly useful for minority ethnic communities.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines Decent Work as characterised by fair income, security in the workplace, social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, and freedom for people to express their concerns.

The researchers suggest these recommendations could apply to similar countries in Southeast Asia – such as Bangladesh, Cambodia and Nepal – that are becoming increasingly engaged in international trade, as well as developed countries – such as the US and the UK – where populations of ‘working poor’ are rising.

The policy briefings also aim to help policymakers improve the inclusivity of participatory approaches to wider policymaking, beyond the area of Decent Work.

Professor Simon Goldhill FBA, Foreign Secretary of the British Academy, said:

“There are enormous gains to be made in providing Decent Work for millions of people in both the Global North and South. Research in the SHAPE (Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts for People and the Economy) disciplines demonstrates that the right policy interventions, in the right places, can improve people’s employability and working conditions considerably. Key to this, as these briefings show, is addressing the reasons behind the Decent Work deficit throughout the world and the assumptions policymakers currently make.

“It takes a long time to increase participation in policymaking by diverse groups and to see the benefits start to impact people in terms of higher skills and fulfilling careers. Yet those impacts last lifetimes and generations. They transform opportunities for people in local areas and advance our progress towards inclusive economic growth.”

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