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A new social contract on employment needed for a sustainable African recovery post COVID-19

3 March, 2021
A new social contract on employment needed for a sustainable African recovery post COVID-19

Brazzaville, March 3rd, 2021 (ECA) - Sustainable Development Goal 8 (Decent work and economic growth”) was a key discussion topic at the parallel sessions of the 7th African Forum for Sustainable Development being held this week in Brazzaville (Republic of Congo), March 1-4, 2021.

The meeting aimed to establish a list of measures to help Africa to achieve SDG 8 as part of its efforts to accelerate the post-Covid19 economic recovery. Discussions were jointly chaired by the Algeria representative Mehdi Remaoun and the Assistant Director-General and Director for Africa of the ILO Cynthia Samuel Olonjuwon.

“SDG 8 is very important because it is closely related to Agenda 2030. It plays a particularly important role for the development of our continent. Unfortunately, SDG8 was also one of the goals most affected by the pandemic, and it goes without saying that this is likely to exacerbate the vulnerabilities of the socio-professional segment employed in the informal sector”, said Remaoun.

Access to work, and especially decent jobs is expected to play a key role in poverty reduction. However, like in the rest of the world, employment in Africa has been particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is in fact expected that the crisis will lead to a 1.8 percent to a 4.1 percent drop in Africa’s GDP this 2020, threatening about 19 million jobs at a time when 18 million young people are already entering the labor market every year. However, these figures only partially reveal the gravity of the situation on the ground:

“In Africa, economic growth has not been inclusive and fast enough to absorb the growing labour force. However, unemployment is not Africa’s biggest problem, unlike informality, underemployment and working poverty”, said Bernd Mueller, an Employment Specialist at the ILO Decent Work Team for Eastern & Southern Africa. As a result, many Africans who are too poor to remain unemployed and end up taking any jobs they can find to eke a living.

While unemployment rates appear relatively low in Africa today, the majority of African workers (85.6% according to the AfDB) are employed in the informal sector, and consequently in a situation that is unfavorable both to the workers themselves (lower salaries, working poverty, low protection) and to their governments who are being deprived of potential tax incomes.

Young people and women are particularly affected by this situation: about 95% of young Africans are employed informally, of which 79% are women and 68% are men.

Africa is youthful; employment and underemployment issues particularly affect young people, hence the need to create decent jobs for young people and to strengthen their know-how so that they can find jobs, especially in the digital economy, said Cynthia Samuel Olonjuwon.

The ILO Director for Africa stressed the impact of the crisis on African women, many of whom were already reduced to less protected, less paid jobs, and carried a disproportionate share of care and unpaid domestic work prior to the crisis. In Sub-Saharan Africa for example, 92.1% of sub-Saharan women are employed in the informal sector against 86.4% of men.

However, while the pandemic has revealed the need for African economies and labor markets to become more resilient and sustainable, it also offers the region an opportunity to redirect its growth and facilitate an economic recovery that generates inclusive, sustainable and equitable jobs.

Participants in the meeting made several recommendations for Africa to achieve this goal: stimulating the economy, especially through structural transformation and economic diversification; setting up employment friendly macroeconomic and sectoral policies; supporting businesses; protecting the workforce and relying on social dialogue to achieve mutually beneficial solutions.

According to Prosper Chitambara from the Labour & Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe, African governments should ensure that appropriate institutional policies are put in place, so as to prevent onerous and cumbersome tax regimes from discouraging businesses from entering the formal sector. Countries should also harness smart partnerships and social dialogues, which can play an important role in helping them craft policies for a faster recovery.

“Performance against SDG8 depends on the performance of enterprises as this is where jobs will come from. We need to ask ourselves how we can make enterprises more sustainable, address regulatory barriers, and set up regulations that allow governments to collect taxes, but also allow companies the possibility to stabilize before they are hit with taxes,” added Jacqueline Mugo, Executive Director of the Kenya Employers' Federation (FKE).

“In Nigeria, we focus on assisting SMEs so that they can create jobs. We also have economic policies towards skilling and targeting young persons as we prospect for them also to become employers of labour", said Nigerian Minister of Labor and Employment, Chris Ngige.

Participants unanimously acknowledged the need for a new social contract between employers and employees which would guarantee the right of workers to organize and negotiate collectively ; gender equality and equal opportunities for people with disabilities; the inclusion of young people; and social protection which should be seen as an investment rather than a cost.

"Resilience cannot be built in Africa if we don’t invest in social protection," said Cynthia Samuel Olonjuwon.

“When workers are organized and easier to identify, they can bring more issues to the table: No people condemn themselves to destruction, when people get organized, able to look at what is available and what is possible for beneficial solutions”, concluded Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, Secretary-General of the Organization. African regional association of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa).

Issued by:
Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
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Addis Ababa
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