The need to step up efforts to fight labour market discrimination is one of the main messages of the 2008 Employment Outlook. Promoting equal opportunities is a key policy goal in OECD countries, and virtually all OECD countries have enacted anti-discrimination laws in recent decades. But governments still need to do more to ensure a level playing field for all.
“Labour market discrimination is still a big obstacle,” OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría commented. "Many workplaces not only have a glass ceiling but also a glass door, which keeps out women and ethnic minorities.”
In some OECD countries, individuals from ethnic minorities take 40% to 50% more time to get a job interview than others with the same characteristics but belonging to majority groups. And even when they do succeed in getting a job, Mr Gurría noted, they often earn lower wages than their majority-groups counterparts.
Policies to help fight discrimination
In support of a drive to combat labour discrimination, the OECD report makes a number of recommendations:
*Long-term investment in education and training can prepare people better for the labour market.
*Structural reforms to promote stronger and more sustainable economic growth can boost demand for workers, creating a more competitive environment that forces managers to drop discriminatory hiring and promotion practices.
*Specific anti-discrimination legislation needs to be backed up by effective enforcement.
*Enforcement agencies should be empowered, even in the absence of individual complaints, to investigate companies and sanction employers when they find evidence of discrimination.
This year’s Employment Outlook also looks at other policy issues, including how to promote more and better employment opportunities for young people, workers with mental health problems and people employed in the informal sector. It also assesses pay and working conditions in foreign affiliates of multinationals and how policy can promote foreign direct investment and responsible business conduct.
* Youth labour market conditions have improved in many OECD countries over the past decade, but many young people still find it hard to get a job. Temporary and low-paid jobs can serve as stepping stones for better paying and more stable jobs, but a minority of young job starters become trapped at the low end of the market. More must be done to help young people complete secondary schooling and to assist those without educational qualifications to find jobs.
* Informal employment and undeclared work loom large in some lower- and middle-income OECD countries. A review of seven countries -- Czech Republic, Hungary, Korea, Mexico, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Turkey – prompts suggestions of ways to curb informal employment, including reducing excessive taxes on labour, making employment protection legislation more flexible and making employee affiliation to social protection schemes more attractive.
* Work-related mental health problems are believed to be a leading cause of sickness leave and disability in OECD countries. But athough working conditions have become more stressful for some workers, there is little evidence of any overall increase in mental health problems among the working-age population. Getting work can actually be positive for mental health, although the conditions of work are an important factor. Moving into a temporary job or one that involves long hours is likely to be less helpful than a standard employment arrangement.
* OECD-based multinationals tend to provide better pay than their domestic counterparts, especially in developing and emerging economies. FDI-friendly policies can help to promote investment by multinationals, but lowering core labour standards in order to attract foreign investors should not form part of them. Such action can in fact discourage FDI from responsible multinationals anxious to ensure that minimum labour standards are respected throughout their operations.
More detailed notes giving information relevant to specific countries – Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States -- are available on the OECD website at www.oecd.org/employment/outlook.
OECD Employment Outlook 2008 is available online to subscribers and accredited journalists via SourceOECD, the OECD online library. It also available for purchase at the OECD Online Bookshop.
For comment, journalists are invited to contact Stefano Scarpetta in OECD’s Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Directorate ( firstname.lastname@example.org or +33 1 45 24 19 88).