Background Note on the Programme - Working Out of Poverty: A Decent Work Approach to Development and Growth in Africa

Meeting document | 06 March 2008

8-9 September 2008

Monrovia, Liberia


The Monrovia High Level Forum provides a unique space for multi-stakeholder dialogue on the opportunities and challenges of applying a Decent Work approach to development and growth in Africa. Participants at the Forum will bring a wide range of constituency and country perspectives - from government, international organizations, workers, employers, private sector and NGOs. The exchange of experiences and policy lessons from different African countries will help, in particular, to consolidate the Decent Work approach that the Liberian Government leadership has begun integrating in its post-conflict reconstruction and development strategy.


The Ministry of Labour of Liberia, the International Labour Office (ILO) and Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative (RR/EGI) decided to co-convene this meeting as part of a series of events to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 2008. The Forum is also designed to distil core policy lessons that will be presented at major events planned around the upcoming 63rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York to take stock of progress towards implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)1.

The strategic goals articulated in the Decent Work approach to development spearheaded by the International Labour Organization (ILO) are a main component of the human rights imperatives enshrined in the Universal Declaration2. Decent Work emphasizes the need to promote employment for all, but not any kind of employment. People need jobs and livelihoods that offer just remuneration, ensure that their basic rights at work are respected (including the right to organize and collective bargaining), provide for some modicum of social protection (including against injury and ill-health), and encompass the organizational capacity to negotiate and participate in workplace and work-related policies through social dialogue. This approach is needed now more than ever because of the challenges facing poor working people due to the food crisis, environmental pressures, and other trends beyond their control.

The progressive realization of the strategic objectives of the Decent Work Agenda is recognized as a critical element for a sustainable route out of poverty. At the 2005 United Nations World Summit, Heads of State and Government resolved to make the goal of “full and productive employment and decent work for all” a central policy objective at national and international levels - a goal which has since been introduced as a new target in meeting MDG 1 on halving poverty and hunger. In Africa, the 2004 Ouagadougou Extraordinary Summit on Employment and Poverty Alleviation had already committed to placing employment creation as an explicit and central objective of economic and social policies at national, regional and continental levels. The Summit agreed to a comprehensive Plan of Action, which then served as a framework for the Decent Work Agenda in Africa 2007-2015, adopted at the 11th ILO African Regional Meeting (April 2007) with the aim of stimulating the creation of millions of decent jobs and improving the lives of the Continent’s working poor.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Realizing Rights President Mary Robinson will join with over sixty leaders from governments, the donor community, international organizations, workers and employers associations, companies and civil society organizations, to take these commitments forward for Liberia - and at the same time demonstrate for other countries how the combination of political will, multi-stakeholder dialogue and technical support can create innovative employment policy and sustainable programmes.

Issues to be discussed

Issues to be discussed at the Forum through plenary sessions and breakout discussions include:

Trends in labour markets (gender-disaggregated), including employment, productivity, informality and the working poor - what are the challenges in generating credible labour market information for meaningful employment policy design and monitoring?

Coherent policies for employment and economic growth - how to mainstream employment and decent work objectives across ministerial portfolios and among international partners to ensure that higher growth rates translate in more and better jobs - rather than the common problems not just of limited growth but "jobless growth"?

Post-conflict reconstruction through local economic development and employment-intensive investment approaches - how can synergies between labour-intensive methods, local enterprise development and institutional strengthening create more inclusive patterns of post-conflict reconstruction and economic development?

Sustainable agricultural livelihoods and decent work - how to adapt the Decent Work Agenda to the special conditions and needs of smallholders, farmworkers and subsistence farmers who constitute the overwhelming majority of the working population in Africa?

Social protection and social safety nets - how to finance mechanisms to reduce vulnerabilities due to ill-health, injury, job loss, old age and high food prices?

Gender equality and decent work - what are specific strategies to ensure gender-sensitive analysis and implementation that support working women within decent work programmes?

Improved labour market governance and social dialogue - how to build capacities within government and among social partners to play their essential role in developing, monitoring and enforcing labour laws consistent with ILO fundamental principles and rights at work?

Country presentations from Liberia and Mozambique (session on post-conflict reconstruction and development), Ghana (session on sustainable enterprise creation in the formal and informal economy), and Tanzania and Zambia (session on building coherent employment and growth strategies) will serve as case studies for comparative discussions on lessons from policy and practice (see background papers for the Forum).

Towards a Decent Work Country Programme in Liberia

A tripartite discussion on a Decent Work Country Programme for Liberia will examine, together with other stakeholders, ways to build on the efforts already made by the Liberian Government and social partners to develop a coherent employment and decent work approach within the country's overall reconstruction and development strategy. Some elements to focus the discussion that are highlighted in the background paper on Liberia ("A Decent Work Approach to Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development in Liberia") include:

1. Macroeconomic constraints and the need for increased budget support;

2. Rebuilding infrastructure: synergies between labour-based methods and local economic development;

3. Labour-intensive revival of agriculture;

4. A transparent and inclusive approach to timber and mining;

5. Upgrading the informal economy and small scale enterprise development;

6. Governance and rights: strengthening social partners and reforming labour laws;

7. Towards social protection for all;

8. Generating credible labour market information and analysis.

The organizers believe that this Forum will serve to catalyze greater and more concerted action on taking forward the Decent Work approach in Liberia and beyond.

1 UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on Africa's Development Needs and Challenges, 22 September 2008, New York, and a parallel high level forum on "Working Out of Poverty:

A Decent Work Approach to Development and the MDGs" co-organized by RR/EGI and ILO on 22 September, and a High Level Event on the MDGs co-convened by the UN Secretary-General and the President of the UN General Assembly on 25 September 2008, New York.

2 Article 23 of UDHR states that:

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.