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Breaking The Silence On Aid Workers Salaries

May 18, 2011

A new international Task Force has been set up to promote ‘a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’ for workers and to develop organizational capacity in lower income countries. The research which found discrepancies between the salaries earned by local and those earned by expatriate aid workers was instrumental in setting up the task force. According to the findings from a jointly funded project by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Department for International Development (DFID) an expatriate aid worker will be paid on average four times more (and sometimes much more) than a local employee doing a similar job, with local salaries pushing workers below the poverty line.

Led by Professor Stuart Carr of Massey University, New Zealand, and Professor Malcolm MacLachlan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, the study tested the impact of ‘dual salaries’ on local workers’ motivation in the health, education and business sectors in Malawi, Uganda, India, China, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea in instances when they have been working with expatriate aid workers.

Professor Carr explains: “Such disparity can have repercussions beyond just employee dissatisfaction. Our findings show a keen sense of injustice on the part of locally-salaried workers, coupled with demotivation and low levels of job satisfaction raises the desire to work abroad.  This, in turn, contributes to local ‘brain drain’ ““ the mass departure of technically skilled people from one country to another.”

The researchers also found that wage gaps can prevent ‘capacity development’, the overall objective of the aid organizations, from occurring.  These development activities often include supporting local training, provision of equipment and staff expertise.

Professor MacLachlan says: “Organizations can play a key role in workers’ sense of identity and worth by making pay and benefits fairer and thus improving human services, productivity and poverty reduction itself.  Above all, we must avoid international aid working against itself that is becoming ‘capacity stripping’. Options for addressing this wage inequality include creating career plans, performance appraisals and job evaluations – for example through workplace goal-setting, structured feedback and job-sizing. This would help put to work the remaining Paris Declaration principles of ownership, results and mutual accountability.”

By demonstrating that salary discrepancies result from expatriates who originate from higher income economies rather than different levels of experience or skills the researchers were instrumental in setting up the Task Force ““ which recently made its first full submission to the United Nations. The Global Task Force for Humanitarian Work Psychology aims to pursue a new mission which calls for greater attention to organizations and their dealings with their people ““ as part of  the Millennium Development Goals from the UN’s ‘Keeping the Promise’.  And they plan to work through bodies such as the United Nations and the International Labour Organisation, as well as policy think-tanks such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Professor Carr continues: “We have argued that the role and impact of organizations and organizational cultures should be given much more attention, as the project findings showed that organizations can be key to enabling a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay and to promoting the perception of greater work justice and equity.”

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