102nd International Labour Conference

Address by Her Excellency Dr Joyce Banda, President of the Republic of Malawi

Declaración | Geneva, Switzerland | 12 de junio de 2013

Professor Nidal Katamine, President of the 102nd session of the International Labour Conference,
Your Excellency Chief Justice Richard Banda SC (Retired),
Mr. Guy Ryder, Director General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO),
Leaders of Delegation of member States,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

H.E. Dr Joyce Banda, President of the Republic of Malawi
It is an honour and great privilege for me to address the 102nd session of the International Labour Conference today. I feel humbled and excited because if my memory serves me right, this is the first time that a Head of State from the Republic of Malawi has been invited to address delegates at this most important function on the calendar of the ILO. I therefore do not take this invitation for granted. This is an honour not only to me but also to all the 15 million people of Malawi.

Let me take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to Mr. Guy Ryder, Director General of the ILO, and the entire Management of the International Labour Office for choosing to invite me out of so many Heads of State – some better known than myself and having been around much longer.

Incidentally, I have just clocked one year in office. I therefore take this occasion of ILO’s Conference and my association with the labour movement as an important feature of my first anniversary in the Presidency. I note that this is Mr. Ryder’s maiden Conference to organize and that he too will be completing a year as Director General of this great Body. Congratulations to you Mr. Ryder, for assuming the high office of Director General and for a very eventful and successful first anniversary!

I would like also to congratulate Professor Nidal Katamine, Minister of Labour from the Kingdom of Jordan on his election to chair this very important Conference. I also congratulate the entire bureau for this well deserved election. I wish you success as you steer the deliberations of this great Conference.

Chairperson, my address to this Conference will touch on a number of topical issues on decent work, particularly as they affect my country. I must say here that through the Decent Work Agenda, ILO’s presence in Malawi and in many other member States is being felt more than ever before. I am pleased to note that the decent work agenda is a complete package. It touches on all aspects of development and provides guiding principles for tackling development challenges.

The issue of decent work is an important aspect for development especially for a country like Malawi. Chairperson, between 2004 and 2009, Malawi registered some robust economic growth, averaging over 6% per annum, but this growth was not accompanied by any tangible jobs created in the economy. The benefits did not trickle down to the population. It is therefore no wonder that for the past ten years poverty has not significantly decreased. The results of the Integrated Household Survey in 2010/2011 showed that the poverty headcount is still as high as 50.7%. This is big lesson to Malawians.

Noting these high levels of poverty in my country, I set out a vision for Malawi which is ‘to eradicate poverty through economic growth and wealth creation.’ I want to ensure that Malawi achieves growth that brings meaningful change in the lives of the people.

Chairperson, I am therefore grateful that, with the assistance of the ILO, my Government has developed the Malawi Decent Work Country Programme to address the challenge of jobless growth, among other challenges. The Decent Work Agenda is an integral part of the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II 2011 – 2016 and the Economic Recovery Program, which I launched when I came in office.

Chairperson, Distinguished Delegates, as some of you may be aware, at the time that I became President of my country, the economy had almost collapsed. Foreign exchange was scarce and this created a very harsh business climate and many companies scaled down production because they could not import raw materials in sufficient quantities and some even closed down totally, resulting in massive job losses.

Therefore the Malawi Decent Work Country Programme has greatly informed our recovery strategy. We believe that employment, if it is decent, can be an important route out of poverty as well as in enhancing the resilience of economies against shocks. Therefore, the Economic Recovery Program has employment creation as one of its key pillars. In this regard, it was only on 15th March 2013, when I personally launched the Youth Job Creation Initiative as part of the recovery process. The youth constitute the largest group in the labour market in Malawi, yet they face the most serious challenges when looking for employment or trying to venture into business. This Job Creation Initiative is a program that aims at building skills for youth and creating employment opportunities for them.

I am pleased that my Government, again with the help of the ILO has developed the Employment Policy to guide job creation initiatives. Other recent ILO supported-initiatives in Malawi include: the piloting of the G-20 Education and Skills for Employability project, the organization of a very successful High Level Policy Dialogue on supporting productive employment and decent work held in October, 2012 and a study on “The Enabling Environment for Sustainable Enterprises in Malawi.” All these initiatives have provided valuable input towards the development of our job creation strategies.

Chairperson, Distinguished Delegates, the Decent Work Agenda has also given us the impetus to take a critical look at our social security system. I am pleased to inform you that for the first time in the history of Malawi, we have enacted the Pension Act which makes it mandatory for employers to put their workers on pension. I am aware that the coverage of the Act is limited only to formal employees, excluding many other sections of our society. For this reason, my Government only a few weeks ago launched an all embracing Social Support Policy covering all the other vulnerable groups through, among other things public works programmes.

Chairperson, considering that over 80% of Malawi’s population lives in the rural areas and relies on agriculture, improving the rural sector therefore, has the potential to greatly reduce poverty. That is why one major focus of my Government is to improve the livelihood of the rural population through a business approach to agriculture. I look at agriculture as a sector that has potential to generate jobs and wealth for many Malawians. In this vein, Malawi will focus on commercialisation, diversification and modernization of the agriculture sector. In fact, I spent the past few days in London to witness the announcement of Malawi as a new country partner in the G-8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. And through this initiative, Malawi will accelerate private sector investments in the agriculture sector, and this has tremendous opportunities for job and wealth creation. I have also recently announced the establishment of the Mudzi (or Village) Transformation Trust which will provide accessible, responsive and flexible funds for implementation of various social and economic projects to rejuvenate rural economies. Through these initiatives, my government will provide its citizens with job creation opportunities.

Chairperson, let me commend the ILO for supporting Malawi in this area as well. The organization has two programmes running, one is a pilot programme on “Decent Work and Food Security” and the other one on “Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining in the Rural Sector in Malawi.” I have no doubt that we will continue to work together so as to bring more decent work to our rural sector.

Chairperson, I have come to appreciate more, that through social dialogue you can achieve a lot. When I inherited a failing economy, one of the first things I did was to initiate dialogue with Malawians and Malawi’s development partners, and through this dialogue we were able to identify very practical solutions to our economic challenges in the immediate, short and medium term. I am pleased to indicate that through our dialogue and collaboration, the fruits of the recovery plan have already started to emerge: foreign exchange availability has substantially improved; the local currency has stabilized and to some extent the Malawi Kwacha has appreciated against major foreign currencies. As a result, there is consistent availability of fuel supply, companies are now able to import raw materials and other supplies without problems, and the incidence of retrenchments is on the decline.

Chairperson, such is the power of engagement and dialogue and it is pleasing to note that the ILO continues to be a strong advocate of this approach in finding solutions to social and economic challenges facing member States. Indeed, in these times of widespread economic challenges arising from the global financial and economic crisis, the relevance of the ILO today has become glaringly clear.

Chairperson, Distinguished Delegates, I will now talk about an important issue that we should consider as we discuss labour issues, and that is of the need to intensify efforts against child labour. And there can be no better time to raise this issue than today when we commemorate the World Day Against Child Labour. As a leader and a mother, I strongly believe that children hold the future for any nation. As such, they deserve total protection and care. I have spent the past thirty years of my life championing the cause for social justice and I feel strongly about the need to protect the vulnerable people especially the children.

Chairperson, I am personally concerned that child labour remains a huge problem in most developing countries including Malawi. This is largely due to the high levels of poverty, among other things. It is evident that when families do not have decent employment that gives them an income, the children in such families will be prone to child labour.

I remember in 2004 when I served as Minister of Gender and Children's Affairs, I found out that Malawi was on the Tier 2 Watch List. For the first time, I learnt about the interconnection between child labour and human trafficking. I found out that children were leaving their homes to work in farms, especially tea and tobacco estates in other districts, and this constituted not only child labour, but also human trafficking, hence Malawi’s poor rating on the watch list. I found this unacceptable and launched a campaign on "Zero tolerance to child abuse." This helped us move to a better rating of Tier 1. I was told though, that midway the rating dropped again.

Chairperson, Malawi is still committed to combatting the problem of child labour. As such, my Government has developed a national action plan covering the 2010 – 2016 period to guide child labour elimination efforts. In this connection, I am pleased to inform you that we hosted a very successful national conference on child labour in September last year which I was privileged to open. The conference re-affirmed the urgent need to double our efforts in the fight against child labour. I am happy with the partnership Malawi haswith the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour in support of action against child labour elimination in my country. I pledge to continue to champion the "Zero tolerance to child labour project" in Malawi, and also to intensify programmes to eradicate poverty, which is the root cause of this problem.

Chairperson, let me now turn to an equally important issue in labour matters and that is the need to look at equitable access to decent work by women and men. And allow me to get personal and talk from my experience. Chairperson, I believe there is nothing that a man is able to do that a woman cannot do. In fact where I come from it is the woman who shoulders the biggest responsibility of supporting the family, through her contribution of labour, time, emotions and energy. I strongly believe that our societies need to develop comprehensive strategies to nurture women in the informal and formal labour markets, aim for equal pay for equal work and ensure that the women’s voices are present in the labour union. I believe there are capable women at the various levels and what we need is to provide equal opportunities for them to access employment and to be retained. I want to lead by example. Therefore, in my country I have promoted at least 100 deserving women into decision making positions. These include 9 cabinet ministers and deputy ministers; the Head of the Civil Service, the Acting Head of Judiciary, three High Court Judges, two deputy Reserve Bank Governors, the Solicitor General, the Deputy Inspector General of Police, 18 Permanent Secretaries and other heads of government departments. This is in addition to the women who were already in decision making positions. I hope that employers from the private sector can take a cue from my action and open up more spaces for women’s participation in the labour market.

Chairperson, to show my commitment to securing the voice of women in labour discussions, I specifically made a directive that out of the six delegates from the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions that I have personally funded to come to this conference here in Geneva, three of them must be women. I believe it is time for women to take their rightful position in society.

I wish to acknowledge the support that some men have given to the women counterparts in the work places. And I urge my fellow women to rise up to the challenge when these spaces open up. I have learnt never to give up and that is why I am where I am today.

Chairperson, it is my sincere hope that the tripartite constituents gathered here will engage in frank and exhaustive discussions, which result in the adoption of practical recommendations that should provide innovative solutions to social and economic challenges facing our world today in the areas of employment creation, decent work, social security, sustainable development and social dialogue.

Chairperson, as you may be aware, the High Level Panel report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda has brought to our attention a strong recommendation that for the world to end poverty by 2030, we need to transform economies into jobs and inclusive growth. The panel has argued that growth is the only exit from poverty, meaning that we need greater focus on promoting business, entrepreneurship, skills and education. I therefore believe that the discussions that you are having in this conference are an important aspect of the solutions to the world’s challenges. Let us use this platform to shape the post-2015 development architecture.

I believe, in so doing, the ILO will continue to be relevant to member States and remain an important player in social and economic development matters at all levels - global, regional and national.

As an alumna of the International Training Centre of the ILO at Turin in Italy, I hold the ILO in high esteem. I went to Turin for a training course in 1996 while in the civil society and the knowledge that I gained from that programme has left a mark in my life. I acquired valuable knowledge on livelihood skills that changed the life of my family and that of all those to whom I shared the knowledge. That is why I would love to see the ILO continue to be a key UN institution through which the world is continually shaped into a better place for everyone to live in.

Chairperson, I remain committed to my Government’s continued partnership with the labour movement. I strongly believe that a free and functional labour movement is an important indicator of democracy in a country. That is why I found it compelling to personally attend this year’s Labour Day celebrations held under the auspices of the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions and also accepted the invitation to come and address you today. I look forward to my Government’s continued engagement with the Labour Union and the Employer's Association to ensure that Malawi fulfills all necessary legal and policy requirements for the provision of decent work to the citizens.

I thank you all very much for your kind attention. And I wish you good deliberations.