Despite the ongoing reorganisation of African Regional Labour Administration Centre (ARLAC), the organisation remain key to fast tracking the implementation of sustainable measures to address decent work deficits within the region.
Director of International Labour Organization (ILO) Regional Director for Africa – Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon told the ARLAC meeting that 2019 will be a watershed year for labour markets in Africa. She said the ILO will be helping member states to achieve the needed decent work outcomes through its various initiatives.
“In addition to ARLAC turning 45 years, the ILO is also commemorating 60 of its presence in Africa in the pursuit of decent work and social justice. Globally, the ILO turns 100 years. As you can imagine it is time for significant reflection on the achievements to date as well as how the Future of Work we want,” said Samuel-Olonjuwon.
She reflected on the ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2019 report, which points to some progress, but above all reveals the persistence of significant decent work deficits, with the Africa region facing challenges of many different kinds.
According to her many African economies are gaining momentum with annual economic growth on the continent projected to accelerate to 3,9 percent in both 2019 and 2020. She said the projected acceleration in economic activity up to 2020 is too small to create the number of jobs needed to absorb a fast-growing labour force.
She was addressing the 45th ARLAC Governing Council meeting currently held at Zimbali Lodge, near Durban, in KwaZulu-Natal. The meeting which brings together labour, employment and manpower ministers started on Tuesday and will end on Friday (01 March).
Samuel-Olonjuwon said over 63 percent of the total working-age population participates in the labour market, although the labour market participation rate ranges from 46 percent in the Northern Africa to 68 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.
“It is also important to note that for a large part of the African population unemployment is not an option. Northern Africa is the sub-region with the highest unemployment rate. This is due mostly to the persistently high unemployment rates among young people (ages 15-24) and women. Indeed, the youth unemployment rate is expected to exceed 30 percent by 2019, which means that young people will continue to be 3,5 times more likely than adults to be unemployed.
“Meanwhile, at 20,7 percent in 2018, the unemployment rate for women is more than twice that of men (9,0 percent),” she said.
Samuel-Olonjuwon pointed out that globally and in Africa, being in employment does not always guarantee a decent living, “Many workers find themselves having to take up unattractive jobs that tend to be informal and are characterized by low pay and little or no access to social protection and rights. This leads to a very high share of informal employment, constituting almost 90 percent of total employment in Africa. Working poverty continues to be widespread, around 250 million workers in Africa were living in extreme or moderate poverty in 2018”.
She said gender inequality in the labour market was also a regional phenomenon, it was worth noting that gender gaps are widest in Northern Africa.
Samuel-Olonjuwon said agriculture continues to be an important source of job creation, with over 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa living in rural areas. She added that agriculture accounted for over 55 percent of total employment in 2018.
Faced with this challenging outlook, she said young people are looking to migrate as a solution. She said an ILO survey had found that over 43 percent of young people in sub-Saharan Africa would leave their country of origin if they had the opportunity. She said while migration can have its cons and pros, “It is imperative that we collectively look to provide alternatives for young people, migration does not have to be the only option.
In her address Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring & Evaluation, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said the existence of African Regional Labour Administration Centre, as well as its peer organisations like CRADAT (for French Speaking Africa) and ACLAE (for Arabic speaking Africa) was a pragmatic expression of our goal towards regional integration. Dlamini-Zuma said the continent saw these institutions as important building blocks towards a strong and cohesive region. She said the continent must explore mechanisms to facilitate for collaboration and joint action between these three labour administrative centres.
“The addressing of development, trade, investment, and gender based violence will require appropriately capacitated and progressive African States. We therefore, cannot overemphasize the ARLAC mandate to capacitate officials in our respective countries with the skills and knowledge which are necessary for the jobs of the future.
“The Future of Work and its meaning for jobs, skills, and wages imply that they are likely to be amplified with the advent of the continent-wide common market. We must utilise labour administrations as a tool for development through the promotion and safeguarding of decent employment within Member Countries,” she said.
The ARLAC meeting ends tomorrow (Friday March 01) with the highlight being a ministerial high level symposium – on violence and harassment of women and men at work – which will be chaired by South Africa’s Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, who is also a member of the governing council of ARLAC.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa and ILO Director-General Guy Ryder will deliver closing speeches on Friday. The meeting starts at 08:30am.