The Director General of the International Labour Organisation Mr Juan Somavia
Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant and all other ministers
The heads of states from Guinea, Togo and Cape Verde
Ministers of Labour from the represented countries
Leaders of the labour movement
Leaders of organised business
Ladies and gentleman
I would like to thank the International Labour Organisation for having chosen South Africa to hold this important gathering. I hope that Director General Somavia you and your team have received nothing but splendid warmth and co-operation that we have become famous for.
The issues that are going to be discussed here are critical to the economies of the continent in particular and the international community in general. But in keeping with the theme of the conference which is Empowering Africa’s Peoples with Decent Work, I will largely confine myself to issues affecting our continent.
This is an important opportunity to debate the ways in which African countries should be responding to the challenges posed by the ILO’s Decent Work agenda.
This agenda provides an important framework that can be used by our countries to consider national policies and to give meaning to decent work on our continent.
To many the idea of decent work in Africa may seem like a dream. Our continent has an unfortunate history marked by colonialism and forced labour.
More recently, many African countries have experienced an underutilisation of labour, an outflow of skilled labour, low levels of development of manufacturing activity and a reliance on resources.
But Africa is part of the developing world and the economic fortunes of the continent are beginning to change along with those of other developing economies.
The IMF forecasts that emerging economies as a whole will grow by around four percentage points more than the rich world over the next two years. If these forecasts are correct, emerging markets will produce more than half of global output by 2013.
In this context, it is important to craft policies that maximise job opportunities for Africa’s people. And these should ideally be jobs that are sustainable, that provide income security and that promote the rights and dignity of people in their workplace.
The Decent Work Agenda in Africa cannot ignore the widespread poverty that characterises the continent. The share of the world’s poor living in Africa has increased over the past two decades and the UNDP report released in 2010 dealing with the attainment of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) suggests that Africa will have to create 100 million productive jobs in order to reduce the number of working poor.1
In the face of formidable challenges facing the continent, it may be necessary to recognise that economic growth alone is unlikely to be sufficient to empower Africa’s people through providing new job opportunities.
Many other, complementary initiatives will be needed – such as supporting the informal sector and providing bridging programmes between the informal and formal sectors, moving towards improved social security for Africa’s people and paying attention to education and skills development.
It is clear that governments are going to have to play a critical role in promoting decent work in Africa by setting up appropriate development policies and ensuring regional and continental economic cooperation in ways that promote jobs.
To promote decent work in Africa will require coordinated policies that that make employment the main priority. In Africa, stimulating employment will also require paying attention to the supportive environment in which inclusive growth can develop.
The basics for putting job creation in an upward trajectory are proper infrastructure development, a well functioning education system and social and government services that support inclusive growth.
To give impetus to efforts aimed at growth, the South African Government in 2009 decided to focus on five priority areas namely; education, health, rural development and agrarian reform, taking forward the fight against crime and creating decent work.
More recently, Government declared 2011 a year of job creation through meaningful economic transformation and inclusive growth.
This has enabled Government to better align its efforts by ensuring that the programmes of state departments and state owned entities align their efforts to the imperative of job creation.
We also introduced a New Growth Path that will guide our work in achieving these goals, working within the premise that the creation of decent work is at the centre of our economic policies.
In the NGP, the South African government has set an ambitious target of achieving 5 million new jobs by 2020. Achieving this target would mean reducing our narrow unemployment rate by 10% to around 15%.
This means we have to bring many young persons into economic activity as well as many of the long-term unemployed to achieve this monumental task.
At the core of our efforts, will be the focus on building a developmental state with the strategic, political, administrative and technical capacity to give leadership to our development trajectory.
The focus for governments efforts in the coming years will be to stimulate the country’s productive capacity to stimulate job creation and expenditure on the social wage,” including access to health services, education, social security, transport and municipal infrastructure.
Our first strategic priority, however, is to speed up growth and transform the economy to create decent work and sustainable livelihoods. The key elements that we will focus on will be the following:
To maintain a stable pro-employment macroeconomic environment;
Implement trade and industrial policy to create decent work on a large scale;
Undertake interventions to create a more inclusive economy, by expanding opportunities for the poor to access the labour market and broadening the impact of growth;
Strengthening competitiveness and promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and co-operatives, and;
Ensuring that the country keeps up with global technological trends and fully exploits our comparative advantages;
While it is clear that all priorities should receive urgent attention, the approach of the South African government will be to phase in priorities and sequence their implementation taking into account the availability of resources.
During the mandate period of the current government, the areas of fastest expenditure growth will include economic services and on social security.
These priority areas are of particular importance for the labour market and for dealing strategically with policies to strengthen the economic recovery. As the International Labour Organisation (ILO) points out:
“If all countries stimulate their domestic activity, primarily through employment and social protection, two direct ways to support aggregate demand, then global growth and trade will recover. This implies a central focus on employment and social protection in short-term fiscal and monetary policies. And macroeconomic policy should explicitly target employment and social protection objectives in order to accelerate a recovery.”2
Our priorities are consistent with this approach. As government we are determined to implement strategic policies that will address the challenges we face and to meet these challenges with a new resolve.
Central to our approach is the recognition of the enormous responsibility on all social partners to contribute in different ways and, in particular, to contribute through effective social dialogue.
The Framework Response to the Economic Crisis has been a focus for social dialogue in the period from 2009 to 2010. At present, the NGP has broadened the agenda for social dialogue and introduced targets that the social partners can commit to and work towards.
The challenge that remains is that of using our tradition of social dialogue to tackle the more difficult challenge of job creation and reducing unemployment and its associated poverty affecting so many South Africans.
While Government needs to play a central role in creating the conditions for economic growth, it is also incumbent on the social partners to move from dialogue to partnership in tackling job creation.
In implementing the Decent Work agenda in Africa, we need strong international agencies to provide guidance and technical support now more than ever. There are many challenges in the labour market and many vulnerable workers that need the standards and services provided by the ILO.
Finally, African countries will have to find new and improved methods of cooperation at regional and continental level to ensure that we have complimentary economic and social policies.
It will only be through working together on the continent that we will be able to empower Africa’s people with decent work.
I now declare this conference open and wish you well in your deliberations.
1 Draft Report of the Director-General to the 12th ARM Meeting, page 31.
2 Report of the Director-General, Tackling the global jobs crisis – recovery through decent work policies. Page 13, ILO, 98th Session, Geneva, 2009.