Decent work and the city

Decent work and the city is a four-year project looking at labour markets in different cities across the world. It is headed up by Dr Mathew Johnson who has been awarded a UKRI future leaders fellowship to evaluate different ways of promoting decent working conditions through city institutions and networks.

Business people walking through at city at dawn

The project will compare six cities - Manchester, Bremen, Montreal, New York, Seoul and Buenos Aires – and explore how the type and quality of jobs on offer have direct and indirect effects on wider issues of inequality and social justice.

The project builds on a number of WEI projects such as Just work in Greater Manchester and the State as a socially responsible customer, and will extend existing WEI partnerships with the CRIMT network and the ILO, and strengthen longstanding relationships with academics and trade unions across Europe.

Through in-depth qualitative interviews with key actors such as local policymakers, trade unions, and employers this project seeks to illuminate the drivers and outcomes of the decent work agenda at the city level, and generate insights into the future direction of urban labour markets.

The project has three main aims.

The first aim is to map the underlying structure and 'health' of the labour market at the city level in order to understand how cities vary in respect of key indicators such as job creation, skill development, working conditions, equality of opportunity for different groups, and mechanisms of workplace participation.

The second aim is to critically evaluate local initiatives to improve working conditions, and explore how networks of different stakeholders contribute to the process of designing, implementing and monitoring the 'decent work' agenda at a local, national and international level.

The third aim is to benchmark and share good practice by establishing a 'community of practice' around policymakers, employers, labour and grassroots community groups that will share and discuss key research findings and contribute to the development of the decent work index and toolkit. These will act as a platform for subsequent ongoing dialogue between different stakeholders, and processes of action planning.

At a time of continued volatility and uncertainty in the global economy, not least because of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the project will both recognise and highlight good practice in respect of improving the quality of work, while also exploring the conditions under which a decent work agenda can be developed and sustained. By combining high quality academic research outputs with ongoing impact and knowledge exchange activities, it will provide both theoretical and practical answers to pressing global concerns around low pay, inequality and insecurity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinvigorated debates about the challenges of living and working in cities. The pandemic has also revived the argument that urban areas could be transformed as a result of the economic and social upheaval. Patterns of rapid contagion and the difficulties of social distancing in densely populated areas raise questions about the safety and resilience of highly interconnected global cities. Mat Johnson, leading the project, has written an article for Forbes on the subject.