ILO African Regional Meeting to accelerate the implementation pace of the Decent Work Agenda in the continent
The 12th African Regional Meeting of the International Labour Organization (ILO) was held in Johannesburg, South Africa from 11 to 14 October 2011. African leaders, labour ministers, social partners, experts and development partners from 54 countries discussed ways to accelerate the implementation of the Decent Work Agenda for Africa 2007-15 and respond efficiently to a jobless economic recovery.
The 12th African Regional Meeting which took place for the first time in South Africa was attended by President Jacob Zuma of the Republic of South Africa and Minister Mildred Oliphant, South African Minister of Labour as well as President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea and current Chairperson of the African Union, Mr. Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, Prime Minister of the Republic of Togo. The Meeting commended the ILO Director-General, Juan Somavia, for his Report entitled Empowering Africa’s Peoples with Decent Work. The Meeting recognized that progress had been achieved in implementing the Decent Work Agenda in Africa (2007–15) while acknowledging that some of the targets lagged behind, in particular those related to gender equality, youth employment, migration, forced labour, HIV and AIDS at the workplace, social protection and implementation of international labour standards. Delegates stressed the importance of Decent Work Country Programmes (DWCPs) as the vehicle to identify and implement national priorities related to the Decent Work Agenda. They noted that good progress had been made in adopting DWCPs in Africa; so far, 31 DWCPs were being implemented while a further 22 were under elaboration. However, it was recognized that some of the first generation DWCPs were not sufficiently aligned with national policies and that the social partners had not been adequately involved in their formulation and implementation; moreover, there was a need for more effective tripartite DWCP formulation, implementation, monitoring and quality assurance mechanisms, as well as for joint resource mobilization strategies.
Efficient growth and employment in Africa
The Meeting noted that there was an urgent need to embark upon inclusive growth paths that create jobs and therefore reduce poverty. Government had a paramount role to play. Employment policies needed to be designed taking into account the patterns of growth in each country, and should focus on specific, employment-intensive sectors, value chains and economic clusters. The Meeting recognised the importance in this matter of infrastructure investments, education, skills development and lifelong learning, and regional integration. The Meeting urged governments to take steps to gradually formalize work and business in the informal economy, including in rural areas, and create an enabling environment for sustainable private sector growth, investment, access to finance and the creation of small and medium-sized enterprises, all of which have an enormous job creation potential.
The Meeting reiterated the urgency of addressing the youth employment crisis which is compounded by high population growth. Thirty-two African countries now prioritized employment in general and youth employment, in particular, in their national development frameworks. The Meeting welcomed the joint initiative by the African Union Commission, the African Development Bank, the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the ILO on youth employment, and called for its translation into concrete action on the ground. The promotion of youth employment must address both the supply and demand sides of the national labour markets. Measures include improving the qualifications of young people, pro-employment macroeconomic policies, private and public sector development, the provision of finance and venture capital and public works schemes, and investing in quality jobs.
Skills development and improved employability are a cornerstone for achieving the Decent Work Agenda in Africa. Skills must be coordinated with social and economic policies and integrated into national development frameworks. To further address skills mismatches, a number of proposals were made: a more prominent involvement of the private sector and workers’ organizations in the design, planning, monitoring of training; a need to improve the quality and relevance of training; Lifelong learning and re-skilling approaches; support for youth to facilitate a smooth transition to the world of work.
With almost three quarters of the African population living and working in rural areas, there was renewed attention to rural employment. Comprehensive national programmes, providing integrated packages of services that address the multi-dimensional aspects were called for. The agricultural sector should evidently be the focus. At the same time, the Meeting requested governments to take necessary measures to create an enabling environment for small and medium-sized enterprise development which also goes beyond the agricultural sector, invest in infrastructure including roads, schools and health services, and promote rural areas as an environment where decent work becomes a reality. Many jobs could be created and youth could be motivated to stay in rural areas instead of migrating to cities.
Reduce the decent work deficits
In Africa, about two-thirds of all job opportunities and livelihoods have been created by the informal economy. Workers and operators in the informal economy were affected by severe decent work deficits in terms of rights, incomes and working conditions, protection and voice and representation. Priority must therefore be given to the process of formalization. Governments should take the following measures to promote the social economy: (i) create a conducive legal and institutional environment; (ii) establish a framework for consultation and exchange of knowledge; (iii) build the capacity of social economy leaders, promoters and regulators; (iv) fight discrimination of any form in the social economy; and (v) apply the values and principles of the social economy to public policy.
The Meeting expressed concern that, in spite of progress being made, there was still much gender inequality and widespread discrimination. Governments should continue to give priority to gender equality in education. African countries should ratify the relevant conventions, in particular ILO conventions on maternity protection and on domestic workers.
The Meeting noted that there was now recognition across the continent that social dialogue was a key governance mechanism and there was better institutionalization and availability of frameworks for social dialogue. Still, all partners were to engage in better articulation of tripartism as a tool for governance, and ensure its effective operationalization. The Meeting also expressed concern about the limited application of existing important labour standards.
The Meeting noted the need for widespread support for the progressive development of national social protection systems. Considerable progress towards higher levels of social protection coverage had been achieved in a number of countries. Mobilization of domestic resources remained the central challenge. Formalization is a necessary condition for the long-term sustainability and improvement of national social protection schemes.
This article is based on the conclusions of the meeting available on http://www.ilo.org/global/meetings-and-events/regional-meetings/africa/arm-12/lang--en/index.htm