Economic Prospects for Lower-Income Groups in Work-Life Balance
At the 14th ASEAN Confederation of Women’s Organisations (ACWO) General Assembly in 2010, Mr. John Hendra, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam, reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to support ASEAN governments in their battle against poverty. In 2015, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, stressed the possibility that “we can deliver on our shared responsibility to end poverty.” For lower-income groups, especially those working in the informal sector, a “good life” is generally defined in material and psychological terms, with work, or the income that they derive from work, being a means to attain peace of mind, good health, sense of belonging, safety, freedom of choice and action, dependable livelihood, food and so on.
However, what differs greatly between lower-income groups and their financially better-off counterparts are the social, cultural and environmental contexts in which their work and life are embedded. In other words, lower-income groups often live and work in “unhealthy, polluted and risky environments” and thus, experience powerlessness, voicelessness, low self-esteem, anxiety and fear for the future. The lack of sense of security from a material or a psychological perspective takes a toll on their work and life, and inevitably affects their work-life balance.
Economic Prospects for Lower-Income Groups
But what are the causes for the ordeals of lower-income groups, i.e. limited economic prospects? Lower-income groups often cite “lack of connections, lack of information, skills and credit” as obstacles to prosperity. This highlights the importance of communal and institutional support for lower-income groups. As much as this is an economic issue, the broader context that encompasses changes in social, cultural and environmental circumstances must be taken into account. For example, in ASEAN, urbanisation is taking place at an alarmingly high rate, with megacities like Manila and Jakarta poorly absorbing the influx of migrants who often hail from the underdeveloped rural areas in hopes of better job opportunities. The rapid disappearing of young people entails a loss of traditional livelihoods in rural areas while the sudden over-expansion of the urban workforce may result in increased crime and violence, social isolation and extortion if employment opportunities are found lacking. To illustrate, lower-income groups, especially those working in the informal sector, lack access to social benefits, occupational and personal safety standards, labour regulations in relation to fair wages and so on. Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising (WIEGO), states that street vendors often face worrying “routine occupational hazards”, and that urban policies rarely prioritise livelihood security. Consequently, this reduces the overall quality of their work and life.
Dependence on Social and Environmental Wellbeing
In times of need, lower-income groups may look to social networks for financial and spiritual support. However, in ASEAN, rapid urbanisation as described above can lead to a breakdown in traditional social solidarity when kinship ties and community cohesion weaken as societal units in urban areas become smaller and farther apart than those found in rural areas. Moreover, the living conditions of lower-income groups make them more vulnerable to and less resilient against the impact of environmental hazards. Needless to say, the deterioration of social and environmental wellbeing negatively influences the work and life of lower-income groups.
Work-Life Balance for Lower-Income Groups
“Work-life balance for lower-income groups is built upon the belief that every working individual deserves to work and live life in material and psychological security. This can be achieved through income-generating schemes that draw upon the merits of social networking, on-the-job skill development, access to (micro-)credit, mobility along value chains, and ecological resilience. While there is a working group and Ministerial Meeting on rural development and poverty eradication within the ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN governments need to come together now to collectively come up with an urban agenda that includes poverty eradication in urban areas with the aim of providing security to the lower-income class so that they can enhance their quality of work and life.” This vision of work-life balance is already captured in the ASEAN Framework for Equitable Economic Development, and requires formal consideration by ASEAN governments to take shape.
http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/PopDistribUrbanization/PopulationDistributionUrbanization.pdf (pg 170)
Photo Credits: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jul/06/united-nations-extreme-poverty-millennium-development-goals