The First African Decent Work Symposium, "Recovering from the crisis: the implementation of the Global Jobs Pact in Africa", held from 1-2 December 2009 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso focused on finding solutions for a sustainable recovery. The Jobs Pact – adopted by the ILO Constituents and endorsed by global bodies (ECOSOC, G20) as well as the African Union – offers a set of practical measures to reduce unemployment and promote sustainable development.
Heads of State of Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Togo together with members of African Governments and representatives of employers and workers, regional institutions and bilateral and multilateral development partners took stock of measures taken thus far and drew up a pan-African roadmap for implementing the Jobs Pact with country-specific packages designed for ILO African tripartite constituents.
Trade unions and employers organizations from around the continent also agreed a joint Declaration:Acting together for the ILO Global Jobs Pact committing their member federations to concerted mobilization for the ILO Global Jobs Pact.
The symposium comes also at a significant time in the review process underway for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as the forthcoming 2010 UN General Assembly is set to examine progress towards the MDGs with only five more years before the 2015 deadline. In this context, the Jobs Pact can be an essential tool for policy makers around the world with regard to the employment goals, as it is centred on the basic needs of people: decent jobs and social protection for all.
African challenges: sustainable growth and consumption
The challenges facing the African continent, exacerbated by the crisis, are still there. “Higher sustainable growth and consumption in Africa is Africa’s challenge”, said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. The Jobs Pact helps countries address them better and in more sustainable ways.
While the direct impact of the financial crisis in Africa has been stronger for countries that have a higher degree of financial integration, the economic downturn has quickly spread, leading to a decline in trade, remittances, tourism, foreign direct investment, and, official development assistance.
The ILO Pact urges Governments to make sure that the fundamental rights at work and the implementation of the international labour standards are not compromised by the effects of the crisis. Therefore, raising the quality of employment, the productivity of livelihoods and the conditions of workers in informal settings must be a priority, especially in Africa where the informal economy remains predominant.
Generating employment is the way forward
Any lagging behind can only jeopardize the attainment of the MDGs by the 2015 timeline. The prospect of a jobless recovery is worrisome, particularly in countries with an inadequate social protection floor. Juan Somavia, ILO Director-General warned participants of the dangers of complacency with as signs of recovery appear. “We are here to give an African dimension to the Pact... The ILO message is clear: until new jobs are created, here in Africa and around the world, we will not emerge from this crisis,” he added. In Africa, medium, small and micro enterprises (MSME) are employment generation engines, but many face obstacles to growth such as access to long- and short-term credit and government contracts, weaker financial and management structures. MSMEs run by women prove to be resilient and more sustainable, economically, environmentally and socially. Support, promote and invest in MSMEs, especially in the agricultural and IT sectors, offers an array of opportunities Africa cannot afford to miss. But a true recovery for Africa will only be possible when the continent has overcome the manifold and deep-rooted problems that existed prior to the economic crisis.
President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso recalled that the crisis was an opportunity to boost employment and economic progress by strengthening social dialogue, regional integration and by increasing the production capacity, including the processing of raw materials. Burkina saw a rapid decrease in GDP growth to 3% in 2009 against 5% in 2008 and a growing fiscal deficit. Drawing on the Pact, the country has revised its labour system, priority being given to a basic social security floor including plans for the introduction of a health insurance scheme.
Fostering social dialogue in crisis response
Past experiences - Argentina 2001/2002, Asia 1997/1999 - demonstrate that governments need to tackle the causes and consequences of major international crises with multilateral as well as national action. Countries with a track record of social partnership and well-established social dialogue institutions are more likely to formulate rapid and effective tripartite responses to the challenges brought by the recession.
This was the case in several countries on the continent. In South Africa, NEDLAC, an economic tripartite working group in partnership with the Presidency, established the framework for “South Africa’s Response to the International Economic Crisis” to be implemented and monitored through action plans and five task teams. In the Katanga province of The Democratic Republic of the Congo the local government has mediated between the mining companies and trade unions, which avoided massive lay-offs by agreement to hold off wage increases. The Kenyan Government called together a tripartite national task force to work on the jobs crisis. Nigeria adopted the “Abuja Declaration on Meeting the Employment Challenges of the Global Economic and Financial Crisis” and established the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) in August 2009.
Participants emphasized the great potential of social dialogue mechanisms in helping member States to address difficult economic and social challenges, such as labour market imbalances and social security related reforms. The High-level panel in Ouagadougou called for a strengthened social dialogue leading to results which benefit all segments of the labour force and the society at large.
Can African countries adopt a basic social protection floor for all?
Building a social protection floor for all is underway in several African countries, with promising developments in Burkina Faso and Mozambique. Social protection is a global and coherent policy concept that promotes national strategies for minimum level of access to essential services and basic income for old age, disability, child support, unemployment and basic health cover. Finding resources to ensure a stable social protection requires strong political will to either use or extend existing fiscal space.
Following a previous proposal initiated by the 11th African Regional Meeting (Addis Ababa, 2007), delegates at the Ouagadougou symposium supported the creation of a regular employment forum, designed to share and develop best practice solutions to the challenges Africa is facing and to ensure that the Decent Work Agenda policy portfolio stays on track despite the effects of the crisis.
Outcome recommendations of the symposium stress the need for reliable labour market information (job losses, unemployment, under employment, informal economy, migrant workers, brain drain, labour productivity, wages, skills, training). The ILO capacity in providing and sharing this information remains paramount on the labour market. Participants at the symposium voiced the need to facilitate the access to accurate information on labour issues and called for enhancing public employment services, which are very weak in the majority of African countries and nonexistent in some.
The Ouagadougou Decent Work Symposium 2009 Report will be released and followed-up during the forthcoming ILO Governing Body (March 2010). The outcome will serve as a basis for information on the MDG Employment Goals at the 2010 UN General Assembly reviewing the MDGs and provide an opportunity for Africa to look at the global policy constraints that have made it so difficult to reach the MDG targets.
Full information on the First African Decent Work Symposium and the implementation of the Global Jobs Pact in Africa can be found here:
- Ouagadougou Decent Work Symposium webpage
- Recommendations from the parallel sessions - (pdf, 1144KB)
- A Roadmap for the Implementation of the Global Job Pact in Africa - (pdf, 1778KB)
- Declaration:Acting together for the ILO Global Jobs Pact
For more information on the ILO Global Jobs Pact, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org