7 November 2017

Africa: Labour Market Reforms Needed As Africa Seeks to Attain Decent Work Environment

Currently, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are guiding the long-term development strategy of developed and developing countries. Goal 8 of SDGs aims at promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Decent employment is broadly concerned with fundamental rights of human being in terms of working conditions and remuneration. Decent work agenda helps in improving labour market conditions and generating productive employment within an economy. Decent work includes productive activities through decent job-creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourages the formalisation and growth of micro, small-and-medium enterprises, and access to financial services.

Decent work is included in the four strategic objectives of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and includes the fundamental principles and rights at work and international labour standards; employment and income opportunities; social protection and social security; and social dialogue.

These objectives apply to all workers - women and men, both formal and informal economy employment; in wage employment or working on their own account; in fields, factories or offices; in their homes or in the community.

Decent work country programmes are the main vehicle for ILO support to countries. This is promoting decent work as a major component of national development strategies. In developing countries decent work initiative has high prospects for promoting economic growth and poverty reduction.

Why it is important to attain decent work in labour market?

Decent work is one of indicator of level of economic development and welfare as it affects human development index and quality of life. According to classical economic theories, working conditions and wages are related to productivity. Previously, all developing countries focussed on employment generation and eradication of joblessness.

Recently, it has been discovered that there is need to shift focus form job-creation to creation of decent work as continued lack of decent work opportunities in terms of work environment, social protection, employment and income opportunities could lead to an erosion of the basic human rights underlying principles of democratic societies.

Providing youth decent job-creation opportunities, through investment in education and training, helps in enhancing skills that match labour market demands. This helps in enhancing labour productivity and work performance.

Again, society as a whole benefits when more people are being productive and contributing to their country's growth. Productive employment and "decent work" are key elements to achieving fair globalisation and poverty reduction.

Factors affecting attainment of decent work

Decent work opportunities are linked to quality of education, driven by research and innovation, training to create skills matching labour market needs. It aims at improving working conditions in labour market to improve productivity and retention of workers in jobs.

In addition, promotion of decent work in developing countries depends on strong commitment on the part of governments and employers. It requires investment in education and research, social protection, conducive work environment and other conditions that improve work environment.

Decent work in Africa

In Africa with high informal sector employment, decent work attainment is a challenge due to lack of basic social protection in informal sector, low and unequal wages, and large hours of work.

Again poor working condition and lack of bargaining power further affect decent work attainment. In developing countries there is need of strong efforts on part of national and international actors to create quality jobs with high social protection.

In sub-Saharan Africa where most people are food insecure and poor, rural poverty is associated with poor working conditions and absence of decent work conditions in rural areas.

In Rwanda, government has strong commitment towards attaining decent work in formal employment through appropriate laws, policies and institutions which determine and influence the demand and supply of labour and fair working conditions and which comply with international labour standards.

Way forward

Implementation of decent work is an appropriate strategy to solve existing problems of poverty, inequality and unemployment in African countries. There is need for investment in education, research, training, job creation and labour market reforms.

In developing countries, formal sector is doing well in terms of provision of decent work but informal employment is lacking decent work elements of social protection and good working conditions. There is need for creation of not just more jobs but also enhancing quality of existing jobs in both formal and informal sectors.

The writer is a Kigali-based consultant.

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