12th ILO African Regional Meeting – Statement of the Minister of Labour of South Africa, Mildred Oliphant

Statement | Johannesburg | 11 October 2011

Mr. Juan Somavia, Director-General of the ILO

Mr. Charles Dan, ILO Africa Regional Director

Honorable Nandi Mayathula-Khoza, the Acting Premier of Gauteng

Honorable Parks Tau, Mayor of Johannesburg

Honorable Ministers in attendance

Excellencies and Colleagues from our beloved Continent of Africa

Participants at the 12th Africa Regional Meeting

Esteemed Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me express sincere thanks and appreciation for the confidence you have shown in me to chair this meeting. On behalf of our government and the people of South Africa, I am happy to welcome you to Johannesburg and to our country.

Your presence in this, the 12th ILO African Regional conference is a testament to your critical role as the actors in the real economy comprising workers, employers and government. You also play a pivotal role against unemployment and other social ills confronting our labour markets.


Let me hasten to remind ourselves and reiterate an already stated fact that “conditions of labour exist involving such injustice, hardship and privation to large numbers of people as to produce unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperiled…” Economic growth must therefore serve the well-being of men and women by creating jobs and fighting inequality and poverty. Indeed it may very well be that some of our peoples are sustained by the hope of a better tomorrow and it is our duty to do the utmost in making sure that their wish is realized. South Africa’s view is that gatherings such as these should contribute to measures for overcoming these challenges. Our people expect out of such gathering, a message of hope and not despair and therefore you are the messengers of hope.

Excellencies! Various reports point to the 2008-09 recession having resulted in job crisis that had dramatic impact on youth unemployment. Within the OECD area, this reached a post war high of 20% in the first quarter of last year. In South Africa, Statsa indicates that the high number of the unemployed are between the age 15 and 34 years of age. Supporting this position, our own National Planning Commission diagnostic report argues that if a young person does not get a job by the age 24, they are unlikely to get a job. Even though a recovery seems underway, it remains uneven and fragile and not likely to absorb the multitudes of the unemployed in the short term.

According to the OECD, at least 400 million new jobs would be required between now and 2020 in order to absorb just the newcomers to the jobs market. This renders vulnerable populations, and particularly young men and women, highly exposed to social inequalities and poverty.

We can indeed ask; what is the meaning of Africa’s economic growth for the young people if such growth is not translated into concrete opportunities in the labour market? Recent events worldwide are an important reminder of why employment and more importantly, youth employment should be at the centre of the global development goal agenda.

We forewarn that recovery cannot be sufficient until there is employment recovery. Financial and social stability must come together. Otherwise, not only the global economy but also social cohesion will be at risk.

Social Security

Excellencies! Over 75% of the world’s population does not have any social guarantee. This is juxtaposed against 10% of the world’s population holding over 80% of the wealth. The majority of the global population remains bereft of even the most basic social security which is further compounded by new dark clouds emerging on the employment horizon and the prospects having worsened in many countries.

A simple glance at the statistics and according to the UNDP report reflects that in the mid-1990s, at the global level, 1.2 billion people were without access to safe water, 842 million adults were illiterate, 158 million children under five were malnourished and 1.3 billion people lived below the income poverty line.

Again, on average 17.2% of global GDP is allocated to social security. However, this average does not reflect the situation for the majority of the world’s population, who live in lower income countries where much less is invested in social security. It should be noted that this does not mean that there is no fiscal or policy space for lower-income countries to dedicate to their social security system. Countries with a similar level of GDP per capita may take very different decisions on the size of the public sector. And at any size of government, countries have some choice as to what portion of public resources to invest in social security.

In fact, most countries have adequate resources to mount programmes that can eventually meet social security needs. The major obstacles to meeting social security needs are therefore political and administrative, not financial. The problem is to shift government expenditure from current patterns to new priorities. Taking this situation into consideration, South Africa concurs with the statement that the world does not lack resources to abolish poverty; it only lacks the right priorities.

Excellencies! South Africa supports the view that social security plays an important role as a provider of mechanisms to alleviate and also to prevent poverty, to reduce income disparities to acceptable levels, and to enhance human capital and productivity. It is thus one of the conditions for sustainable economic and social development. It is a factor in development whilst also being an important factor in a modern democratic state and in society.

In the light of this information, the establishment of the Social Protection Floor gains resonance with our vision hence South Africa advocates for support for a Recommendation being drawn up by the ILO for adoption during the 2012 Conference.

Fundamental Principles and Rights at work

Last June Africa led the process of the adoption of a standard on HIV and AIDS in the World of Work also known as. Recommendation No 200. It is my pleasure to inform this august gathering that in South Africa, Recommendation 200 has already been utilized by a court of law as cited in February 2011 in support of the South African Labour Court‘s decision in Allpass v. Mooikloof Estates1. The ruling of the judge was in favour of a worker who lost his job on the basis of HIV status.

This is a practical example of the success of our work and interventions in the protection of workers as Ministers responsible for employment. I urge my fellow Ministers to seriously consider this Recommendation and its integration into national policies.

I am happy to report on the commitments this country made based on President Jacob Zuma clarion call in his Aids day in 2009 wherein he committed the government to a wide-ranging actions regarding the fight against HIV and Aids. These included:

    A massive campaign to mobilise all South Africans to get tested for HIV.

    All children under one year of age to get treatment if they testeed positive and treatment would therefore not be determined by the level of CD cells.

    All patients with both tuberculosis (TB) and HIV would get treatment with anti-retrovirals if their CD4 count was 350 or less. At the time treatment was available when the CD4 count was less than 200 only.

    All pregnant HIV positive women with a CD4 count of 350 or with symptoms regardless of CD4 count will have access to treatment. At the time HIV positive pregnant women were eligible for treatment if their CD4 count was less than 200.

    All other pregnant women not falling into this category, but who are HIV positive, would be put on treatment at fourteen weeks of pregnancy to protect the baby.

Excellencies! For far too long, we have witnessed a situation wherein domestic workers lacked recognition as workers; and respect and dignity as human beings. Their situation brought urgency to our work and it is with great joy to point out that Africa played a very important role in the adoption of the Convention on Domestic Workers No 189, 2011 and its related Recommendation 201.

It was important that we bring them to the mainstream and through this standard, we have ensured that domestic workers around the world must have the same basic labour rights as those available to other workers; that is, reasonable hours of work, weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours, a limit on in-kind payment, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, as well as respect for fundamental principles and rights at work including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

I fully agree with the Director-General’s assertion on this standard when he said “Bringing the domestic workers into the fold of our values is a strong move, for them and for all workers who aspire to decent work, but it also has strong implications for migration and of course for gender equality”.

Director-General, let me take this opportunity to express South Africa’s appreciation for your immense contribution to the world of work. As Africa, we are honoured to host you in this regional meeting, our highest regional congregation. Through you and the advocacy for decent work, we are noticing a new shift in development planning which prioritizes not just employment generation but productive employment generation. Africa has indeed benefitted from your stewardship and we are on firm ground to submit and African candidate as your successor.

In concluding, let me point out that employment creation, the fight against poverty, inequality and discrimination continues to be the most pressing development challenges in the world of work. The social, demographic and technological changes continue apace resulting in the changing nature of work and further compounding the complexities relating to an uneven economic landscape.

In wishing for fruitful discussions during the rest of the week, let’s remind ourselves again that “Lasting Peace Can Be Established Only If It Is Based On Social Justice”

I thank you