2019 a watershed year for labour market in Africa

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Despite the ongoing reorganisation, the International Labour Organization (ILO) remains key to fast-tracking the implementation of sustainable decent work deficits in the continent.

According to the ILO, World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2019 report - the many African economies are gaining momentum with annual economic growth on the continent projected to accelerate to 3.9% in both 2019 and 2020.

However, the projected acceleration in economic activity up to 2020 is too small to create the number of jobs needed to absorb a fast-growing labour force.

“The ILO will be helping member states to achieve the needed decent work outcomes through its various initiatives,” said ILO Regional Director Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon.

Speaking at the African Regional Labour Administration Centre (ARLAC) meeting underway in Durban, Samuel-Olonjuwon said 2019 will be a watershed year for labour markets in Africa.

“In addition to ARLAC turning 45 years, the ILO is also commemorating 60 years of its presence in Africa in the pursuit of decent work and social justice. Globally, the ILO turns 100 years. As you can imagine it is time for significant reflection on the achievements to date as well as how the Future of Work we want,” said Samuel-Olonjuwon.

Over 63% of the total working-age population participates in the labour market, although the labour market participation rate ranges from 46% in Northern Africa to 68% in sub-Saharan Africa.  

“It is also important to note that for a large part of the African population, unemployment is not an option. Northern Africa is the sub-region with the highest unemployment rate,” she said.

Youth unemployment

Samuel-Olonjuwon attributed this to the persistently high unemployment rates among young people (ages 15-24) and women.

Youth unemployment is expected to exceed 30% by 2019, which means that young people will continue to be 3.5 times more likely than adults to be unemployed.

On the other hand, at 20.7% in 2018, the unemployment rate for women is more than twice that of men (9%).

Working poverty

Samuel-Olonjuwon pointed out that globally and in Africa, being in employment does not always guarantee a decent living.

“Many workers find themselves having to take up unattractive jobs that tend to be informal and are characterized by low pay and little or no access to social protection and rights.

“This leads to a very high share of informal employment, constituting almost 90% of total employment in Africa.”

Working poverty also continues to be widespread, around 250 million workers in Africa were living in extreme or moderate poverty in 2018.

Despite these facts, the agriculture sector continues to be an important source of job creation in sub-Saharan Africa as it accounts for over 55% of total employment in 2018.

Faced with this challenging outlook, Samuel-Olonjuwon said young people - about 43% - are looking to migrate as a solution.

She said while migration can have its cons and pros, “it is imperative that we collectively look to provide alternatives for young people, migration does not have to be the only option”.

Future of Work

In her address, Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said the existence of ARLAC, as well as its peer organisations like CRADAT (for French Speaking Africa) and ACLAE (for Arabic speaking Africa) are important building blocks towards a strong and cohesive region.

She said the continent must explore mechanisms to facilitate collaboration and joint action between these three labour administrative centres. 

“The addressing of development, trade, investment, and gender-based violence will require appropriately capacitated and progressive African States. We, therefore, cannot overemphasize the ARLAC mandate to capacitate officials in our respective countries with the skills and knowledge which are necessary for the jobs of the future.”

Dlamini-Zuma said the Future of Work and its meaning for jobs, skills, and wages imply that they are likely to be amplified with the advent of the continent-wide common market.

“We must utilise labour administrations as a tool for development through the promotion and safeguarding of decent employment within Member Countries,” she said.

The ARLAC meeting ends tomorrow with the highlight being the launch of the regional landmark “Future of Work” report of the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work as well as the ministerial high-level symposium - on violence and harassment of women and men at work - which will be chaired by Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant.

ARLAC Council is a gathering of Labour Ministers and other delegates from 19 African countries under the theme “Towards Gender Equality in the Future of Work”. 

This meeting is aligned to one of the 10 recommendations of the Future of Work report that calls on all ILO member countries to set measurable targets for achieving gender equality. - SAnews.gov.za