More than 50 African ministers of labour or employment, along with representatives of workers’ and employers’ organisations and international organisations joined the International Labour Organisation’s Africa office on Thursday for a virtual forum to discuss how to address the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has devastated the world of work, causing massive human suffering and exposing the extreme vulnerability of millions of workers and enterprises on the continent and around the globe. In Africa, those vulnerabilities are particularly stark, with high levels of poverty, informality, youth unemployment and child labour, and widespread disparity in which many lack social protection.
The Africa regional event was one of five regional events held from 1–2 July, and will be followed by three days of global discussions, from 7–9 July. Participants discussed how Africa’s world of work can build back better in the post-pandemic recovery.
“Building back better means that we must fully use the opportunity provided by the pandemic to ensure that ‘there is renewed vigour and urgency to address the underlying labour market crises’ and ‘no one is left behind,’” Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon, ILO Assistant Director General and Regional Director for Africa, said in her opening remarks.
“It is a call to make social protection for all a key national development goal! It means envisioning the informal economy as a critical asset; supported to create decent jobs and become engines of economic growth and sustainable development.”
Ministers from Algeria to Zimbabwe took the floor to share the measures being undertaken in their respective countries and response measures that have been put in place to boost the economy, save jobs and secure livelihoods, and protect the most vulnerable.
“COVID-19 highlighted the glaring deficits in decent work that employment and enterprises in the informal economy face,” said Isman Ibrahim Robleh, Minister of Labour in charge of Administration Reform in Djibouti. “Our challenge as African countries is to transform the highest proportion of the informal economy into decent employment and enterprise through a formalization process that combines quantity and quality of employment.”
Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation-Africa, said it was time to take action, noting, “Those lessons that the crisis has taught us, we must take seriously moving forward. We talk about stimulating the economy, but we also know that Africa needs appropriate fiscal space in order to do that.”
Another participant, Jacqueline Hugo, Executive Director of the Federation of Kenya Employers, noted: “As difficult as the situation might be, we must seize the opportunities that the crisis offers and accelerate reforms in our continent.
“In the integrated and borderless world of today, digital technologies offer opportunities for productivity growth which did not exist before and these can be used to enhance learning and business activities. Africa should not be left behind.”
The ongoing ILO Global Summit examines a range of issues, including how to promote full and productive employment in this new environment, what needs to be done to address the massive vulnerabilities in the world of work made evident by the pandemic.
“Africa must seize the opportunity of this crisis in order to build a genuine solidarity and to concretize the exchanges between our countries both in the fields of health and medical research,” said Madeleine Berre, Gabonese Minister of Employment, Civil Service, Labour, Vocational Training and Social Dialogue.
In a message read on her behalf, the African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, Amira El Fadil, said, “Productivity will be a key policy to pursue vigorously as means to enhance the resilience of economies and societies. It must be accompanied by participative management systems and fair redistribution of wealth.”
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