In developing countries, such as Eritrea, jobs are a cornerstone of development. They have a pay off far beyond income alone. They are critical for reducing poverty, allowing cities to function, and providing youth with alternatives to violence. In recent years, jobs and employment have become a central part of the dialogue on development. Today, many countries seek to better understand their labor sectors, address gaps, and develop more effective policies.
Several weeks ago, Eritrea’s Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare presented findings from its national labor force survey during a workshop in Asmara. This article discusses highlights of the workshop and shares some of the survey’s important findings.
The national labor force survey was conducted in 2015/16 and was restricted to respondents between the ages of 14 and 64. The survey focused on a number of important issues, including identifying the country’s actual and potential labor force, clarifying which sectors require more workers, the association between Eritrea’s labor demand and labor supply, and trends in labor force participation by age category. The survey’s findings will provide useful information for policymakers, investors, and the business community. As well, the survey offers substantial information to employees and it is also expected to significantly reinforce labor force capacity and productivity.
The survey features many interesting findings. For instance, it reveals that 60% of the Eritrean population falls within the legal working age. The survey also indicates that Eritrea has a labor supply rate of 77.5%. This rate is higher within the younger population. As well, the national labor absorption rate is estimated to be 74%. Of those that are employed, 31.5% engage within the informal economy.
It has often been said that the Eritrean population detests idleness. The survey suggests that there is truth to this statement. According to results, there is a relatively high employment rate in the country, with most of the population engaged in agricultural activities. According to respondents, the main reasons for being inactive or unemployed are attending school or training courses, disabilities, or retirement.
Several weeks ago, the survey and its findings were presented at a public workshop conducted in Asmara. An introduction and background comments were presented by Mr. Weldeyesus Elisa, Director General of the Labor Department at the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare. He also discussed labor underutilization and inadequate employment. Mr. Hagos Mebrahtu, Director of the Employment Division, presented on the topics of employment and unemployment, while Mr. Mokonen Asfha, Unit Head of Labor Market Information, discussed child work and child labor.
During his insightful presentation, Mr. Weldeyesus noted that the national labor force survey was the first of its kind in Eritrea and that it will be instrumental in deepening understanding about Eritrea’s human resource development. One of the benefits of the survey is that it will serve as a useful foundation for further research. According to Mr. Weldeyesus, the survey will help in identifying the academic qualifications and skills of the labor force, areas that require a large supply of labor, and productivity gaps. It will also help in the drafting more effective labor laws and regulations.
Mr. Weldeyesus revealed that 69% of Eritrea’s working population resides in rural areas, while 31% reside in urban centers. An interesting fact is that the country’s unemployment rate is only 3.5%. The main employment sectors include agriculture, manufacturing and services, and industrial activities. There is greater labor force participation among males, and 5% of the male population is engaged in vulnerable employment. Out of the total labor force, 7% are people with disabilities.
In terms of gender and employment, the survey shows that there is higher labor force potential among the female population, while female labor participation is less than that of males. According to the survey’s definitions, in order to be categorized as employed, an individual must work for greater than 40 hours per week. Additionally, the condition of searching for but being unable to find a job, when lasting for a period of longer than one year, constitutes unemployment.
During his presentation, Mr. Mokonen clarified the difference between child work and child labor. Child work is defined as the situation where a child engages in some work while attending school, whereas child labor is the situation where children conduct work and miss a significant number of classes or completely dropout. Based on the survey’s findings, many children in Eritrea help their parents while attending classes. At the same time, however, there are also many children engaged in work who miss a significant number of classes or withdraw from school.
Mr. Hagos explained that the researchers categorized individuals who work less than 40 hours per work as underutilized. He also described the concepts of decent work, vulnerable employment, and labor rights. The presenters also took time to note that the survey categorized domestic work as employment.
Thus, women engaged in household activities were regarded as part of the potential labor force, even though they do not receive a wage. According to the researchers, people engaged in activities that contribute to national production, livelihoods, or general well-being were also categorized as part of the labor force. Across Eritrea, there are many sectors that require a greater supply of labor. Therefore, the survey provides critical information for policymakers to help them address the gaps.
At the end of the workshop, Ms. Luul Ghebreab, Minister of Labor and Human Welfare, gave closing remarks. She explained that the multi-year research project was an important development and she expressed her great appreciation to those who contributed towards its successful conclusion. Its findings offered much cause for optimism, while also revealing challenges that will require attention, she added.