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11th ILO African Regional Meeting, Addis Ababa, 24-27 April - Despite upturn, African economies still lack enough decent jobs: Governments, employers and workers to discuss new "policy portfolio" for reducing poverty, creating decent work

Widespread economic growth and increased productivity in Africa has been insufficient to reduce the growing numbers of unemployed and working poor, according to new analyses prepared by the International Labour Office (ILO).

Press release | 23 April 2007

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (ILO News) – Widespread economic growth and increased productivity in Africa has been insufficient to reduce the growing numbers of unemployed and working poor, according to new analyses prepared by the International Labour Office (ILO).

New projections, to be issued for the Organization's 11th African Regional Meeting to be held here on 24-27 April, say Africa's economies will have to create some 11 million new jobs per year to reduce unemployment to the global average. At the same time, the ILO said that despite a slight decline in the percentage of working poor, the number is expected to increase by over 50 million by the year 2015.

These challenges, among others, will be at the top of the agenda of the quadrennial ILO meeting which gathers workers, employers and governments from the 53 North African and sub-Saharan African member States of the ILO. This year's meeting will host more than 300 participants, including Heads of State and Government and key regional and international stakeholders.

"Economic growth does not automatically create sufficient employment and the generation of new employment does not guarantee poverty reduction," says ILO Director-General Juan Somavia in his report "The Decent Work Agenda in Africa" (Note 1). "Effective poverty reduction policies and strategies must be designed and coordinated so that the poor can take advantage of the employment opportunities generated by growth, overcome income poverty and insecurity and exercise their rights".

While drawing attention to problems of data availability, the ILO estimates the current unemployment rate in Africa at 10.3 per cent, compared to the global average of 6.3 per cent in 2006.

Despite a pick-up in economic growth rates over the last three years, the ability of African economies to create jobs is lagging, expanding by only 8.6 million jobs a year. To reduce Africa's unemployment rate to the world average of 6.3 per cent by 2015 would require an increase in employment of around 11 million per year. (2015 is the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals aimed at halving poverty.)

The ILO also found that although the percentage increase in working poor is expected to decrease between now and 2015, the number will increase dramatically. The ILO estimates that between 2006 and 2015, the percentage of persons working but still living on less than US$2 per person in the household, per day will decrease from 78.6 per cent to 76.4 per cent, but the number will increase from 260.3 million to 316.7 million. Meanwhile, the percentage of working people living on less than US$1 a day per family member will decrease from 46.2 to 44.1, but the number will increase from 152.8 million to 182.9 million (Note 2).

Other challenges facing the region include:

  • HIV/AIDS is decimating labour markets. In 2005, an estimated 9 million men and nearly 7 million women of working age – between 15 and 64 years – in the labour force were living with HIV/AIDS, representing nearly two-thirds of the 24.6 million labour force participants throughout the world living with HIV/AIDS;
  • Opportunities for women and youth in most African labour markets are limited. African youth are three times more likely to be unemployed than their adult (25 years old and over) counterparts, while the majority of African women still work in the rural subsistence economy;
  • Child labour a major challenge in many countries. Although the rate of children aged 5-14 years old who were economically active declined from 29 per cent in 2000 to 26 per cent in 2004, the actual number of child workers is estimated to have increased from 48 million to 49.3 million over the same period due to population growth.

The report to the Regional Meeting also provides a "policy portfolio" for discussion on making decent work a reality in Africa. The portfolio refers to four main challenges: ensuring that economic growth promotes employment for all; guaranteeing that labour rights are effectively upheld and respected; extending the coverage and improving the quality of social protection; and promoting good governance together with social dialogue.

"If extreme poverty is to be halved by 2015, an employment-centred growth strategy is required", says the Decent Work report, adding that there should be "greater policy emphasis on the failure of Africa's labour markets to create more and better paid jobs for women and men, with a particular focus on making economic growth pro-poor and employment friendly; harnessing the potential of globalization to create decent jobs; transforming rural economies to reduce underemployment and poverty; addressing youth unemployment, and facilitating private sector investment to create more employment" (Note 3).

The ILO holds Regional Meetings in Africa and other regions of the world every four years to tackle challenges and problems facing the world of work and review ILO's activities. The delegates will also receive a report on the activities of the ILO in Africa during the past four years. The ILO is a tripartite organization whose meetings are attended by delegates of governments, employers and workers, all of whom have the right to vote. For more information on the 11th African regional meeting, please see: /public/english/region/afpro/addisababa/arm/index.htm.

Note 1 - The Decent Work Agenda in Africa: 2007–2015, Eleventh African Regional Meeting, Report of the Director-General, Addis Ababa, April 2007.

Note 2 - African Employment Trends, International Labour Office, April 2007, Table 2.7, p. 16. (The new report on African labour trends is among they key documents to be discussed at the ILO regional conference and marks the first time the ILO has undertaken an analysis of the current employment situation in Africa.)

Note 3 - For a more detailed discussion of the policy portfolio items, see "The Decent Work Agenda for Africa 2007-2015", Part 11, p. 31.