SDG 8: Ireland’s Progress in Decent Work and Economic Growth

Posted on Friday, 18 June 2021
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Economic Growth  

Target 1 is to ‘sustain per capita economic growth in accordance with national circumstances and, in particular, at least 7 per cent gross domestic product growth per annum in the least developed countries’ and is measured by the using the annual growth rate of real GDP per capita as the indicator. In Ireland, GDP at current prices rose by 8.9 per cent between 2018 and 2019 with a a smaller increase of 5.6 per cent at constant prices. GNI, at current prices rose by 7.0 per cent between 2018 and 2019 and by 3.4 per cent at constant prices. Finally, GNI*, at constant prices rose by 1.7 per cent over the same time period. 

Target 2 is to ‘achieve higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, including through a focus on high-value added and labour-intensive sectors’ and is measured by the annual growth rate of real GDP per employed person. In Ireland, GDP per capita, between 2014 and 2019, increased from €42,009 to €72,346, with the lowest GDP per capita in 2019 recorded in the Midland region at €24,171 and the highest in Dublin at €106,280. 

Target 3 is to ‘promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, including through access to financial services’ and the proportion of informal employment in non-agriculture employment, by sex is used as the indicator. The CSO reports that based on the latest data available, the labour force grew from 2.331 million in Quarter 4 of 2016 to 2.445 million in Quarter 4 of 2020 and the number of people employed increased from 2.164 million to 2.306 million in the same period. In Quarter 4 of 2020, there were more men than women in employment, 1.245 million men compared to 1.061 million women and the participation rates are also higher for men than women, 67.5 per cent compared to 55.3 per cent respectively. For employees though, the gender breakdown is pretty even, 50.8 per cent men and 49.2 per cent women compared to the self employed which is predominately male, three out of four. The unemployment rates are also higher for men, 5.9 per cent compared to 5.5 per cent for women.

Target 4 seeks to ‘improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, in accordance with the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, with developed countries taking the lead’ and uses material footprint, material footprint per capita, and material footprint per GDP and domestic material consumption, domestic material consumption per capita, and domestic material consumption per GDP as the indicators. The material footprint in Ireland grew from 98.33 million tonnes in 2010 to 102.19 million tonnes by 2017. In that same time period though, the material footprint per person fell from 21.59kg to 21.50kg and GDP per material footprint increased from 2.38 to 3.54 US dollars per kg between 2010 and 2017. In turn, Domestic Material Consumption in 2019 was estimated at 121.7 million tonnes, which was 3.5 million tonnes or 3.0% higher than in 2018. The Domestic Material Consumption of non-metallic minerals increased by 7.1 million tonnes or 13.5% between 2018 and 2019 whereas that of fossil fuels fell by 4.3 million tonnes or 22.4%.  

Decent Work  

Target 5 aims to by ‘2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value’ and is measured by the average hourly earnings of female and male employees, by occupation, age and persons with disabilities and also the unemployment rates, by sex, age and persons with disabilities. Early estimates from the Earnings and Labour Costs Quarterly report in June 2021 show that average hourly earnings rose from €24.23 in Q4 2019 to €25.56 in Q4 2020. On average, employees in the public sector had higher average hourly earnings than those in the private sector, earning an average of €31.21 an hour compared to €23.82 in the private sector by Q4 2020. Those working in larger enterprises generally earned more. In firms that employ more than 250 people, the average hourly earnings were €28.49 compared to €21.40 in firms employing less than 50 people. The three employment sectors with the highest average hourly earnings were publishing activities at €44.97 per hour, education at €37.46 and then financial and insurance service activities earning €35.57 per hour. The three employment sectors with the lowest average hourly earnings were services to buildings and landscape activities earning €14.13 per hour, repair of computers, personal and household goods and other personal service activities at €15.38 per hours and lastly, food and beverage service activities earning €15.51 per hour.  

Figures from Eurostat show that in 2018, the mean hourly rates for men were €23.12 and €20.79 for women. The median rates for that same year were €17.30 for men and €16.28 for women. This gap increases with age. Male workers over 50 earned a median wage of €19.71 and women over 50 earned €16.85.  For those with a disability in employment, those with a deafness or serious hearing impairment earned the highest median value income per person with a disability in 2016 at €21,270 per annum and the lowest median income was €7,140 earned by persons with an intellectual disability.  

Target 6 is ‘by 2020 to substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training’ and this is measured by the proportion of youth (aged 15-24 years) not in education, employment or training (NEET). The data gathered for this report indicates that in 2020, 12 per cent those persons aged 15-24 years were classified as NEET.  

Employment Rights and Policies 

Target 7 aims to ‘take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms’ and this is measured by the proportion and number of children aged between 5 and 17years of age who are engaged in child labour, by sex and age. In Ireland, young people’s employment is legislated for by the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996 and under this act, children under 14 cannot be employed at all and those under 16 cannot be employed in regular full-time jobs. Children aged 14 and 15 are allowed to do light work in the school holidays but they must be allowed at least 21 days off during that time, they can take part in work experience or educational programmes once there is no risk to health, safety or development and if engaged in film, cultural, advertising or sport, they can do so under a licence from the Minister for Business, enterprise and innovation. As soon as they turn 15, they can do 8 hours a week light work in school time and 35 outside school time, up to 40 if engaged in approved work experience. A 40-hour week with an 8-hour day is the most that those aged 16 and 17 are allowed to work.  

Target 8 seeks to ‘protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment’. This is measured by the frequency rates of fatal and non-fatal occupational injuries, by sex and migrant status and the increase in national compliance of labour rights (freedom of association and collective bargaining) based on International Labour Organization (ILO) textual sources and national legislation, by sex and migrant status. There were 47 fatal work-related accidents recorded by the HSA in Ireland in 2019, 41 were workers and six were non-worker. The rate of fatal accidents to workers has reduced from a rate of 3.8 per 100,000 workers in 1998 to 1.8 per 100,000 workers in 2019. Also in 2019, there were 9,335 non-fatal accidents reported, 95 per cent of these were in relation to workers.  

Target 9 aims to ‘by 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products and measures tourism direct GDP as a proportion of total GDP and in growth rate and the number of jobs in tourism industries as a proportion of total jobs and growth rate of jobs, by sex. In Ireland in 2019, overseas Tourism and Travel earnings from trips to Ireland was worth €6,867 million. 


Target 10 looks to ‘strengthen the capacity of domestic financial institutions to encourage and expand access to banking, insurance and financial services for all’ and this is measured by the number of commercial bank branches and automated teller machines (ATMs) per 100,000 adults and the proportion of adults (those aged 15 years and older) with an account at a bank or other financial institution or with a mobile-money-service provider. In Ireland in 2019, there were 40 financial service institutions per 100,000 people in Ireland in 2019, with varied coverage, from 84 per 100,000 in Leitrim to 26 in Kildare. Access also varied with 43% of the population living less than 2km from a bank with cashier services increasing to over 86% for people living in Dublin City. There were 58 ATMs per 100,000 in 2019, a decrease from 62 in 2018. The number of personal credit cards in active use dropped from 1.48 million in 2015 to 1.35 million by 2020 but the volume of transactions increases from 8.33 million transactions in October 2015 to 11.35 million by October 2020. The number of debit cards in active use increased from 3.89 million cards to 4.67 million cards between 2015 and 2020. ATM usage decreased over that same period, mostly due to the Covid 19 restrictions in place for most of 2020. However, using cards to make point of sale transactions more than doubled from 43.92 million transaction in 2015 to 105.03 million by October 2020, again, most likely fuelled by the pandemic and the push to contactless.  

Target 8.a is concerned with an ‘increase in Aid for Trade support for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, including through the Enhanced Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to Least Developed Countries’ and measures aid for Trade commitments and disbursements. In Ireland in 2019, the value of aid for trade commitments and disbursements was €32.0 million.  

Target 8.b seeks to ‘develop and operationalise a global strategy for youth employment and implement the Global Jobs Pact of the International Labour Organization by 2020’ and is measured by the total government spending in social protection and employment programmes as a proportion of the national budgets and GDP. Both the Pathways to Work 2016-2020 and Action Plan for Jobs 2018 will need to be updated taking into account the impacts on the employment prospects of the young.  

The CSO have published an SDG Policy Map which shows the Government Department linked to each goal alongside the policy and policy objectives.  

Social Justice Ireland recently published our Employment Monitor showing the impact of Covid-19 on employment and possible unemployment scenarios post-pandemic, together with policy proposals on a sectoral, gender, age-related and regional basis.

For Social Justice Ireland’s analysis of Ireland’s progress in the Sustainable Development Goals, Measuring Ireland's Progress - Sustainable Progress Index 2021. written by Prof. Charles M.A. Clark of St John’s University, NY and Dr. Catherine Kavanagh of UCC, compares 15 EU countries across all UN SDGs, assesses their performance on each individual SDG and creates a ranking table for performance overall.