Risky occupations drive vulnerability in Latin America and Caribbean region, UN warns

30 June 2015

Half of the 220 million “vulnerable” men and women in the in Latin America and Caribbean region – who live slightly above the poverty line but below middle-class levels – are working under precarious conditions, according to initial findings of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In anticipation of next year’s launch of the Regional Human Development Report 2015-2016: Multidimensional progress: well-being beyond income, UNDP says that the economic boom and poverty reduction that took place over the past few decades significantly affected the labour composition in the region.

Indeed, the employed population grew nearly 40 per cent, from 205 million people in 1992 to 284 million in 2012. This growth was mostly concentrated in the middle class, those living on $10- 50 per day, and vulnerable populations, those earning between $4-10 a day. Over 80 per cent of workers are in the service sector, especially in small companies or self-employed as unskilled labourers. UNDP points out that many work as apprentices without a salary, a practice common among the region’s unskilled youth.

“More economic growth that only generates precarious employment will not be enough to prevent this vulnerable group, which represents one in every three Latin Americans, from falling into poverty,” UNDP Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Jessica Faieta said late last week during the second Regional Human Development Report Advisory Board meeting at the Ibero-American Secretariat headquarters in Madrid.

In spite of the expansion of jobs in the region and an overall salary increase in the last two decades, there were no significant improvements in social security for workers. UNDP even noted a slight deterioration in the case of access to pensions. Compared to vulnerable and middle class workers, a huge inequality in access to pension and health care existed among the poor

To avoid setbacks and boost social gains “we must invest in people,” Ms. Faieta said, adding that boosting their resilience requires strengthening capabilities, increasing their assets and access to social safety nets.

According to UNDP, the disparity reflects a tradition of linking job quality and social security rights to the formal labour market, which is out of reach for most workers in the region.

Despite the region’s slowdown in economic growth, UNDP calls for greater political will to continue boosting social investments. Quality education and health services ensure a minimum level of protection against shocks, such as unemployment, sickness, economic recession, insecurity or natural disasters – all of which can push workers back into poverty.

Mr. Gonzalo Robles, the Spanish Government’s Secretary General for International Development Cooperation – a strategic and financial partner for UNDP’s Regional Human Development Report – said: “The need to expand social protection systems is in line with the new vision towards the sustainable development goals and the new post-2015 agenda. This is reflected in the idea of multidimensional progress and well-being beyond income alone, which entail access to decent work, health and education throughout people’s life cycle.”


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