By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
The Government of Sierra Leone on Friday 2nd October, 2015 launched the Labour Force Survey 2014 (LFS) after 30 years since a similar one was last conducted.
Formally launching the report at the conference room of the Ministry of Finance & Economic Development, the Minister of Labour, Mathew Teambo, said the survey report will have tremendous positive impact on Sierra Leone’s future; and it will help the current and future governments to dedicate resources where they are mostly needed; also providing guidance for policies in education, infrastructure, employment and income generating activities.
“The nation’s population and its characteristics are an essential part of a country’s development programmes. It is therefore essential to measure these characteristics and to monitor changes in them over time,” said Mathew.
Giving an overview of the survey, the Director, Economic Statistics Division at Statistics Sierra Leone, Abubakarr Turay, said the report covers key priority activities in the government’s Agenda for Prosperity.
“If you are going to fight poverty in a very successful way it should be through employment creation, and you can’t achieve that without such a labour survey,” said Abubakarr.
He described the survey as a household based survey meant to capture the supply side of labour, adding that it meets the recommendations of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
“This is to serve the needs of domestic users as well as to compare internationally. Although the data might be outside our expectation, it is very much useful to create interventions in policies that will develop the labour market,” he said.
Statistics Sierra Leone implemented the LFS in collaboration with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security with technical and financial support from the World Bank and ILO. The German International Cooperation (GIZ) and Korea Trust Fund (Ktf) also supported the process.
New World Bank Sierra Leone Country Manager, Parminder S. Brar, said the country now has a baseline to move forward and highlighted five key things the government should do with the survey findings: i) increase access to capital; ii) improve agricultural productivity; iii) address gender disparity in the labour market; iv) restructure the educational sector; and v) address the issue of youth and youth unemployment in the country.
“Agriculture accounts for one-third of the jobs in the country, yet only 3-4% of households have access to extension services. So the issue of improving the quality of agricultural productivity is vital. Access to capital is also a serious constraint as only 3% capital comes from the formal sector. Gender disparity also comes up in the report, showing a big disparity between women in terms of jobs. In wage employment, for example, men earn three times more than women in Sierra Leone. And there’s a lot of interesting data on what is happening in the education sector, which needs to be addressed to develop a skilled a labour force. Finally, the issue of youth and youth unemployment needs to be balanced,” said Parminder, adding that the Bank is in the process of preparing a new youth scheme with the government to speak to some of the issues surrounding youth.
Similarly, Country Representative ILO Sierra Leone, Alvic F. Deveneaux, said over the years there has been increasing demand for readily available labour market information, particularly income and employment indicators, which are critical in analyzing economic and social progress at both the macro and the micro levels.
“Without these, no meaningful assessment of development performance is complete. Timely and focused information on the world’s labour markets is essential information that can answer critical development questions,” said Alvic.
He said understanding labour market trends is key to the design of effective policies for job creation, adding that its information also allows for the identification of vulnerable groups that are most in need of support.
“Therefore, it is critical for each country to have timely information on labour and income aspects of the development process. The ILO recognizes the importance of labour market information in the development process and has consistently provided assistance to its member countries, with the support of its various development partners,” he said, adding that there is need to build upon this to ensure that ‘we continue to have updated labour market statistics’.
Speaking on behalf of GIZ, Senior National Value Chain & Policy Advisor, Dr. Momoh-Fonigay Lavahun, said the launching marks the proverbial first step in a long journey and that GIZ appreciated that at the end of the day ‘we have a fruitful report we’ll use to see the progress we are making’.
“GIZ is satisfied we are able to work across the board for this survey to be finalized. With this, we’ll be able to measure how much we have been able to do in Sierra Leone and what we have not been able to do,” said Momoh-Fonigay, adding that a demand side survey is also important for the future and GIZ is willing to support that as well.
However, Commissioner of the National Youth Commission, Anthony Koroma, said there are structural issues that might not be captured in the survey but described the report as an eye opener; ‘a basis in terms of us to argue and push for the right policies’.
“The survey data will be useful to us as a youth commission. We need a reasonable time frame for conducting such surveys; what we need is regular trend analysis. ‘Informality is normal’ according to the report; how do we formalize these informalities?” queried Anthony.
Moreover, representatives of the Sierra Leone Labour Congress said there is now the need for training to build capacity of staff to be able to understand and interpret the data; for future employment policies to take into account ‘education for relevance, not education for education’s sake’; and the need for intermittent surveys to update the trends regularly.
Others called for the introduction of entrepreneurship courses, since the formal sector could not cater to the increasing job demands; and describing the survey report as a wake-up call to re-structure the country’s education system to meet the demands of the ever changing job market.
Key findings of the LFS 2014 report include: the bulk of the Sierra Leonean population is employed in informal jobs in the agriculture and household enterprise sectors; financial constraints, access to inputs and a low skilled workforce limit productivity and represent a barrier to the creation of good jobs in all economic sectors; youth, women and residents in rural areas face higher barriers to “quality jobs”, societal expectations and early family formation limit employment and earning opportunities for women, typically concentrated in the household enterprise sector; low skills level and financial constraints results in difficulties for the youth in finding jobs in the formal sector; and limited knowledge of modern agricultural practices as well as low access to inputs and capital represent severe challenges for those living in rural areas.
Apart from the next steps, a key question that came up during the launching was: will Sierra Leone wait for another 30 years to do a similar survey?