XIth African Regional Meeting opens with calls for continent-wide mobilization for decent work: 10,000 African women and men added each day to growing ranks of extreme working poor

Noting that "growth with few good jobs is not politically sustainable", ILO Director-General Juan Somavia today called for a new development approach in Africa which "puts people at the centre of development and judges the success of economic and social policy according to what happens to people at work."

Press release | 24 April 2007

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (ILO News) – Noting that "growth with few good jobs is not politically sustainable", ILO Director-General Juan Somavia today called for a new development approach in Africa which "puts people at the centre of development and judges the success of economic and social policy according to what happens to people at work."

"If the demand for decent work is not met, democracy suffers," Mr. Somavia told some 500 tripartite delegates and guests attending the opening of the International Labour Organization's XIth African Regional Meeting here with the participation of three Heads of State and Government, and the President of the Pan-African Parliament. The four-day meeting is to consider a new policy portfolio designed to reduce the growing numbers of unemployed and working poor on the continent.

Stressing the need for action, Mr. Somavia pointed to the ILO's latest projections that indicate the number of working people in extreme poverty will increase by some 20 per cent by the year 2015. "That means each and every day, another 10,000 African women and men are being added to those workers already living with their families on less than US$1 per day," he said.

At the same time, Mr. Somavia also noted the enormous potential of African workers and employers to "make change happen. Autonomous and independent social partners and institutions of social dialogue are bedrocks of democratic governance," he said. He welcomed the role of African tripartism in setting the pace for adoption of core concepts such as decent work and fair globalization. And he noted the growing role of women in Africa, saying "from the halls of power to African villages, I am absolutely convinced of this truth: When we empower women — we empower Africa!"

Mr. Somavia issued a strong call for respecting the fundamental right of freedom of association throughout Africa. "There are many amongst us here today who cannot take for granted the freedom of association which is the life blood of our organization, and of genuine, deep-rooted political independence," he said.

Mr. Somavia said the ILO had developed a "toolkit" with other agencies to help others "self-assess their policies in terms of employment and decent work outcomes" and that this toolkit had been approved by the Chief Executives Board of the UN chaired by Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

The meeting is the largest gathering of government, worker and employer representatives from 53 North and sub-Saharan African states to discuss issues related to the world of work, and will address economic growth, job creation, labour standards, social protection and good governance together with social dialogue between governments, workers and employers.

Responding to the African Summit's call in Ouagadougou to generate decent and productive jobs for African families, the ILO has 19 Decent Work Country Programmes at the operational stage on the continent while 25 more are under discussion.

In his welcoming address, Ethiopian Prime Minister H.E. Ato Meles Zenawi said "The Decent Work Decade in Africa, 2007-2015 – is so timely and relevant in terms of the major challenges we all face in our attempts to reduce poverty, including in line with the first Millennium Development Goal. There is no better forum for a practically oriented deliberation on decent jobs in Africa than a meeting at which the major participants are government representatives and representatives of employers' and workers' organizations. There is no other way for most of our countries to make headway in the fight against poverty than making it possible for our citizens to be engaged in productive work, which would continue to be decent, within the context specific to our circumstances, as productivity increases."

H.E. President Blaise Compaoré of Faso said the Decent Work Agenda should make it possible for Africa to find solutions to poverty and unemployment in Africa. "The implementation of full employment and Decent Work must be a global objective for all our countries if we want to guarantee political stability and collective balance. Africa has great potential and capacity to attain this goal if we improve education, knowledge and skills, if we create jobs and enterprises as well as better social economic security for our people. The Decent Work Agenda should make it possible for us to find the solution to poverty and unemployment in Africa."

H.E. President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete of the United Republic of Tanzania said his country has ratified all eight ILO core Conventions and his government has made a commitment to create one million jobs in five years. However, he said, Africa needs to pay more attention to the informal sector, extend social protection to the masses of people in the informal sector and youth employment.

"The problem of youth unemployment is exacerbated by the global demographic trend which has seen the size of youth increasing at a faster rate than our economies can absorb," he said. "It is therefore, critical that partnership is forged in tackling the specific needs of young people in this era of globalization, including human capacity building. Harnessing the energies and potentials of young people represents an invaluable opportunity to nurture agents of socio-economic development."

The three Heads of State and Government of Faso, Tanzania and Ethiopia expressed support for the Decent Work Agenda pledging to ensure the success of its implementation in their countries and Africa in general as a means of putting an end to the challenges of increasing poverty and youth unemployment in Africa.

Ms. Gertrude Mongella, President of the Pan African Parliament said she looks forward to working with the ILO. Referring to Mr. Somavia's address, she said, "women in Africa carry the heaviest burden of poverty just because they are women, despite being the main economic producers. They work in very unfortunate conditions with little remuneration. The heavy burden of domestic chores forces women to work for long hours, very often in poor health and with very little to eat. They have very limited time for education and leisure. High maternal death and child mortality are indicators of this unfortunate situation." She said she looks forward to collaboration between the ILO and the Pan African Parliament on the attainment of the Decent Work Agenda objectives.

Following the opening addresses, the ILO's Regional Director for Africa, Regina Amadi-Njoku, presented the Director-General's Report on "ILO Activities in Africa" for 2004-2006. Discussion on the Director-General's thematic report, "The Decent Work Agenda in Africa" by delegates will continue throughout the meeting.

The African Regional Meeting is scheduled to run until Friday. Mr. Kemal Dervis, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), will deliver a keynote address tomorrow. Delegates will also discuss a wide range of issues, including the creation of sustainable enterprises, ILO Decent Work Country Programmes, combating child labour and promoting youth employment, tackling HIV/AIDS in the world of work, social protection policies, governance and social dialogue, international labour standards, occupational safety and health, labour migration and the follow-up to the ILO's Maritime Labour Convention adopted in 2006.

For more information on the 11th African Regional Meeting in Addis Ababa (Reports, press releases, feature stories, videos, etc.), please see: /public/english/region/afpro/addisababa/arm/index.htm.