International Labour Conference 2012: reactions from Mody Guiro of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa)

What does social protection mean to African workers? And what about youth employment and social dialogue in Africa? ACTRAV INFO raised these issues with Mody Guiro, the President of the African Regional Organization of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa). We spoke to him after the 101st session of the International Labour Conference, which has just ended in Geneva.

Press release | Geneva,Switzerland | 14 June 2012

ACTRAV INFO: Social protection was one of the subjects discussed during this session of the International Labour Conference, and a new Recommendation was adopted. How do you view this new ILO instrument from the African workers' perspective?

I think the adoption of such a Recommendation constitutes a very important instrument for the African workers. In Africa, social coverage for workers is still very weak, and this is a challenge for the trade union movement. Currently, less than 9% of our populations are covered by social protection. The social protection floor gives an opportunity, in partnership with governments and employers, to put mechanisms in place for developing a solidarity that will promote broader coverage for men and women. This applies particularly to the informal and rural sectors of the economy. So we should negotiate with governments to find the means of financing this social protection floor, so that greatest possible number of people on our continent is covered.

ACTRAV INFO: Following the adoption of this Recommendation, are you expecting the ILO to do anything to strengthen social protection in Africa?

The adoption of this Recommendation, which stemmed from a consensus, is to be welcomed. In Africa, some countries do not even have a social security policy, and some have not yet finalized such a policy even for formal sector workers. And yet, more than 65% of workers have their roots in the informal economy. So it is easy to see the challenges that are facing our continent. And I think that the ILO will, in this sense, provide important input in the form of technical cooperation, capacity-building and guidance in the search for better solutions, while taking account of each country's particularities. We hope that the ILO, with its expertise, will support Africa in finding solutions within a reasonable space of time, so as to achieve these social protection objectives on our continent.

ACTRAV INFO: This year, particular emphasis has been placed on youth employment. Do you think that Africa has made any progress on responding to the expectations of young people who are out of work?

I think this is a challenge for Africa. We have a young population and most of our countries are facing the problem of development, linked as it is to other challenges such as vocational training, the matching of training to jobs and, not least, investment in sectors that create employment. This youth employment challenge is facing us and, despite the efforts of some governments, we are the victims of certain crises that the African countries did not bring about. So measures need to be taken to secure job-creating investments. Africa should be focusing on training its young people and on producing, rather than on exporting its wealth. Many governments are making efforts to recruit young people into the public services, but this is not enough to meet the demand. We want more growth on our continent – but it needs to be job-creating growth.

ACTRAV INFO: As a trade union leader, how do you view social dialogue on the African continent?

I think we should pay tribute to the ILO. In Africa, we have noted important progress in many countries in recent years within the framework of social dialogue. Thanks to the ILO, many African countries have strengthened tripartite dialogue, but also bipartite dialogue between employers and workers. Some countries have set up social dialogue committees, thanks to support and guidance from the ILO. These initiatives must be continued.

Despite some setbacks involving violations of workers' rights, everyone must realize that social dialogue is one of the elements that can create the right conditions for productivity. Wherever communication and information are lacking, rumour fills the gap, and with it comes instability. So we all - governments, employers and workers alike - have an interest in building social dialogue mechanisms that enable the various partners to talk to each other and put their ideas on the table in order to reach consensus. If the social climate is marred, we can't reach an acceptable level of production.

I think the ILO should continue this work in order to strengthen the conditions for dialogue in our different countries. It should explain what is at stake in dialogue, so that the partners agree to move forward on this.