Decent Work and Job Gap

A Brief Review of Working Poverty

Today, one of the most fundamental problems faced by both developed and developing countries – including Turkey, of course – is working poverty. Indeed, although individuals are employed, the level of wages they earn is by no means sufficient to escape poverty. On the other hand, jobs with insufficient or no security and protection are widespread. In this context, the concept of decent work has come to the agenda with the problems such as working poverty, unemployment and precariousness. This article focuses on the concept of decent work deficit, which refers to jobs in the world and in our country that lack the qualities that make work decent, and the problem of working poverty as an indicator of this concept. The aim of the article is to express the relationship between decent work and the poverty of workers and to draw attention to the importance of a decent work approach in the fight against working poverty.

For many years, poverty has been explained in terms of individual preferences and choices. In this context, the cause of poverty has been seen as individuals’ choice not to participate in working life, in other words, voluntary unemployment. Therefore, it has been accepted that individuals can escape poverty if they earn income in return for working in a job. Today, however, poverty is seen as a problem faced not only by those who are not employed in the traditional sense, but also by those who are employed. Today, the existence of a significant mass of working poor who live in poverty despite being employed and earning an income in return has clearly revealed that poverty should not be considered as a problem arising only from lack of income. In this sense, the problem of working poverty brings the relationship between work and poverty back to the agenda. As a result of the relationship between these two phenomena, it becomes clear that poverty is not a problem that can be solved only through employment. In this framework, working poverty can be considered as a problem caused by complex, diverse and interacting factors.

Inequalities and poverty have always existed within capitalism and have survived in harmony with the progress of capitalism. However, there have been periods within capitalism when these inequalities and poverty have been relatively different. In countries with Keynesian welfare state practices, the rapid acceleration of growth, the approach to full employment and high wage levels paved the way for a conceptual separation between work and poverty. Thus, income was relatively more fairly distributed among social groups due to the rise of social democracy, and poverty was often associated with individual and cultural characteristics. However, as a result of the shift away from social welfare practices with neo-liberal policies and the development of working conditions to the detriment of workers, the segments living in poverty have become more visible despite working due to the widespread lack of decent work.

At this point, it is necessary to emphasize the relationship between decent work, decent work deficit and working poverty. There is a mutual interaction between the dimensions and components of decent work that we have not mentioned in this paper. Therefore, when one or more of the basic components of decent work is absent or deficient, a decent work deficit emerges. It would not be wrong to consider working poverty in this context. As a matter of fact, working without union rights, social protection and security, in jobs where wages are irregular and low, where flexibility, precariousness, temporary work and poor working conditions prevail, and in jobs that are not of decent quality lead to the impoverishment of workers. This impoverishment, in turn, affects the quality of life and living standards of young people, who are increasingly entering the labor market every year. Naturally, it is not only our quality of life that is negatively affected by this situation, but also our dreams and hopes are sacrificed for this cause, as it can be and of course is the case for every individual who is struggling to find decent work and get rid of working poverty to some extent.

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