Johannesburg (ILO News) – Africa has weathered the global economic and financial crisis better than other continents. It is growing again, exports are soaring and foreign investment is flowing in, the International Labour Organization (ILO) Director-General, Juan Somavía, told the ILO African Regional Meeting that started on Tuesday 11 October in Johannesburg. This is the ILO’s 12th African meeting and the first to be held in South Africa.
Yet Somavía told the delegates from governments, employers and workers, as well as representatives from other inter-governmental organizations gathered at the meeting that more needs to be done to create decent jobs and reduce poverty. This is especially important against a background of the crisis in the Eurozone, Africa’s main trading partner, and with global growth in the second half of 2011 significantly down, leading to worries of a new global recession.
President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr. Jacob Zuma, who attended the opening session, underscored the importance of the ILO’s Decent Work agenda in leading to sustainable development. He said that his government’s policies “clearly spell that our most effective weapon in our campaign against poverty is the creation of decent work”. South Africa is consciously improving expenditure on the social wage, including access to health services, education and social security. “We expect to see results in terms of human development as well as infrastructure in the long term”, added President Zuma.
“The global growth model developed in the last 30 years has not served Africa or the world well as demonstrated by the current crisis. It is not efficient in generating sufficient productive, formal, decent jobs, in reducing inequality, in improving working conditions, in sharing benefits. It wound up producing an unfair, unbalanced and unsustainable globalization”, warned the ILO Director-General. He called for a change of course and outlined six policy challenges.
First, African countries need a more efficient growth and employment strategy that does not measure success by growth alone.
Second, the role of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in delivering employment is key. Experience from the crisis has shown SMEs can make a difference and be an engine of growth, job creation, and sustainable livelihoods.
Third, productive investments in the real economy need to be promoted. Somavía warned that a return to austerity is not a sustainable policy answer. A balance needs to be struck between polices that create jobs, produce real growth and demand, keep basic social protection, and generate fiscal income that will allow the debt to be repaid.
“Ultimately, we need to put productive investment in job-generating sustainable enterprises in the driver’s seat of the global economy”, said Somavía, adding that the financial system must concentrate on providing resources needed for innovation, investment trade and consumption and not on “casino options in short or long selling and obscure financial products. There is too much concentration on how to give confidence to financial operators and too little on how to retain the trust of citizens”.
Fourth, this is not the time to bend back internationally agreed standards. “The crisis should never be used as a justification to thin down workers’ rights and international labour standards”, said Somavía, adding that in this regard social dialogue is a “win-win” scenario - when negotiations from national to shop floor levels lead to mutual agreements on the way forward.
Fifth, policies and programmes must be in place to protect the most vulnerable and the poorest. Social protection is needed and is doable, said the ILO Director-General, quoting examples from Cape Verde, Rwanda and South Africa.
Sixth, promoting decent employment opportunities for the youth should become a global priority. 400 million new jobs are needed in the next decade to keep up with population growth.
The ILO Director-General warned that the daily news show a global youth and many adults united by the indignation of being unemployed or underemployed, of lacking fundamental access to good education, to real opportunities, and looking towards a future without much hope. Anxiety is rising, and political anger with it. This will be the challenge for the G-20 leaders who will gather in France in early November.
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