This webpage is based on a profile of construction workers commissioned by the WIEGO Network for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and prepared by Dave Spooner and Annie Hopley in 2011. Construction provides much needed work opportunities for some of the poorest and most marginalized sections of society in developing countries. Construction output, by value, is heavily concentrated in the developed world. The high income countries of Europe are responsible for 30 per cent of global output, the United States for 21 per cent and Japan for 20 per cent. The figure for India, is only 1.7 per cent; for China, despite its huge size and rapid economic growth in recent years, is only 6 per cent (ILO 2007). While three-quarters of output is in the developed countries, three-quarters of employment is in the developing world. Many construction workers in these countries are informally employed and not counted in official data, so the real number is likely much higher. Technology is the reason for this disparity. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), in richer countries where labour is expensive, machines have largely replaced workers in many new construction tasks new construction tasks (although repair and maintenance is still very labour intensive). In developing countries, where labour is cheap, most tasks are still done by manual methods with minimal use of machinery and equipment (ILO 2007).
A Major Source of Employment The construction industry is a major source of employment worldwide, arguably the second largest after agriculture, and generally the primary one in urban areas. Building construction (both new build and maintenance) are labour-intensive activities, generating many jobs per unit of investment both on and off the building site. The construction industry makes a major positive contribution to the economy of all countries. The output of the industry worldwide is estimated at around $3,000 billion per annum. The industry creates employment for more than 110 million people worldwide. The provision of large numbers of jobs at relatively low investment cost per job invested is particularly important in the developing countries, where the construction industry plays a major role in combating the high levels of unemployment and in absorbing surplus labour from the rural areas. (ILO 2001b: p. 25) Occupations and Status of Informal Occupations and Status of Informal Construction Workers Occupations within the informal construction industry range from unskilled labourers to highly-skilled craft workers. Typically, they form a hierarchy, with gang leaders having the highest status. There is evidence to suggest that women informal construction workers are concentrated almost exclusively at the bottom of the hierarchy (see below).