Last week Malawi resumed our webinar series and brought a very unique perspective to our ongoing discourse surrounding ‘what and when is a job decent.’ In the same tune as the previous webinars, youth in Malawi agreed that a decent job is characterised by social protection, a fair income, a healthy working environment, career progression and security. They also agreed that a decent job is not limited to only the formal sector, as there are a plethora of such jobs in the informal sector. However, they recognised the stigma attached to the informal sector, derives from the notion that only ‘white collar’ jobs are decent, and young people’s lack of awareness when it comes to the decent jobs available in this sector. The insufficient number of jobs in Malawi is outpaced by its growing youth population, presenting a policy conundrum. Participants highlighted that this problem is further exacerbated for marginalised youth. Malawi’s job market fails to give disabled youth the space and opportunities to find decent employment, and gender discrepancies are evident within all aspects of employment, including recruitment, salary, and promotions. To address the challenges specified above and promote more decent jobs for youth in Malawi, the following suggestions were made: match the pace and pattern of the Malawi economy and population with the growth of decent job opportunities, and improve social protection in the informal sector whilst also providing incentives for youth to join this sector.
This webinar explored the following questions:
1. How does the official ILO definition of a decent job resonate with youth in Malawi?
The sluggish growth of decent job opportunities is not in keeping with the growing youth population in Malawi. Participants suggested that the ‘youth bulge’ phenomenon currently existing within Malawi will have a negative impact on the trajectory of young people in the future. Competition for graduate-level jobs is increasing rapidly, leaving a lot of graduates with low wages and insecure working conditions. In addition, the participants recognised that a high portion of youth are concentrated in the agricultural sector since Malawi is predominantly an export country, however, due to the seasonal nature of much agricultural work, a lot of youth are met with irregular working hours, low wages and little or no social protection. Thus, the participant encouraged the creation of more job opportunities that are in line with young people’s interest and qualifications.
2. Is a decent job only possible in the formal sector?
Contrary to the response given by youth in Kenya, participants in Malawi argue that there are ample decent job opportunities existing within the informal sector. However, a lot of young people fail to see this and avoid this sector all together. This often derives from the belief that only the formal sector can provide decent employment. That being said, a lot of youth may deviate from this sector because of unpleasant past experiences. The participants recognised that those working in the informal sector often have ambiguous employment status and limited protection under the law. However, if appropriate measures are put in place and efforts are made to protect those working in this sector, young people could thrive. Removing the barriers to entrepreneurship could also help young entrepreneurs actualise their ambitions. Youth-led enterprises often recruit their peers, thus further fostering a cycle of decent employment and development.
3. Is ‘decent job’ different for men and women?
According to the participants, the gender gap that exists within employment stems from the gender disparities that remain within education. Lack of sufficient education for young girls prevents them from finding a decent job later on in life. As a result, young women are often compelled to take low-skilled jobs, which are labour-intensive and physically demanding. The cycle is then repeated as women who take low-skilled jobs do not have the resources to provide their children with sufficient education, leading to another generation of young girls who are underqualified. Therefore, the lower the level of education, the more likely young women are to be unemployed, even if opportunities exist. Even when women are highly educated and have the right qualifications, they are hindered by unsubstantiated discrimination in every aspect of employment, from recruitment to salary and promotions. Since young women face higher barriers to education than men, it is crucial to address the challenges they face within education and advocate for better policies to increase the number of young girls receiving adequate education.
4. What is needed to make more jobs decent in Malawi?
Participants suggested a number of ways Malawi can create more decent job opportunities for its youth. First, creating opportunities for decent jobs and stimulating the demand for young workers requires the coordination of policies across several spheres which are in keeping with the ever-changing needs of young people and the combined resources of various actors, including employers, governments and the youth themselves. The participants also suggested the need for a bottom-up approach which first addresses the lack of education for young girls in order to solve unemployment amongst young women. Supporting the transition to formality within the informal sector through formal avenues of support and protection could ultimately encourage more young people to be involved in this sector.