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The construction sector comprises a wide range of economic activity, from individual house building and repair to major engineering works. Construction activity is usually divided roughly equally between housing, non-residential building and civil engineering projects.

Construction enterprises range from self-employed individuals to multinational firms operating. The majority of enterprises involved in on-site construction are specialized in terms of the type of work and the locality where they operate. Building materials and components, plant and equipment, are generally purchased or hired from other enterprises. Design and engineering services are also generally supplied by quite separate entities.

Construction is different from other industries in a number of important respects. First, the products of the construction industry are produced or assembled at the point of consumption implying that the workforce has to be mobile.

Secondly, the role and responsibilities of each participant in the process have to be legally defined. The institutional framework of the industry is largely unique to each country or State, giving local firms an edge in bidding.

The construction sector is not only a big employer of labour - around 7 per cent of the labour force. Shortages or high costs of labour have led in many high income countries to the mechanization of construction activities, as well as to the transfer of component production from the site to the factory.

In many developing countries, many workers are informal or work in small companies. There is a widespread use of the contracting system. Workers are employed on a project basis, with no insurance against periods of unemployment or sickness, insecurity of employment and lack of social protection. In addition, the industry exploits many migrant workers from less developed countries. Most often illegal, their wages and conditions of work are far from decent.

For the BWI, the most effective way to ensure that worker's interests are protected in the work place is through legislation and regulation. In this connection, we work with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to lobby for the implementation of ILO standards and their respect in World Bank agreements.

We promote the social dimension of sustainable development in economic growth, environmental conservation and society
since it will not make construction more expensive. For example, a good working environment reduces the risks of heavy physically demanding work, leads to fewer accidents at work, fewer sick days and thus shorter times and lower costs for the total construction.