Since the launch of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Future of Work (FoW) initiative in 2014, 41 African governments have declared their interest in participating in the 27 FoW national dialogues have been held so far, generating key information and knowledge on the future of work in Africa. Here are a few insightful points that can shape our conversation and inform our decisions.
DIFFERENCES AND CONVERGENCES: FoW discussions revealed both divergence and convergence among African countries in different income categories and levels of fragility, depending on the topic. These differences will become essential in devising the development strategies for the future, including the role of the ILO in supporting African states in their efforts to realise decent work.
Work and society: How many new jobs Africa needs by 2030 just to keep up with the continent’s surging population is a current worry. Yet, debaters raised one common concern: persistent inequality — both within nations as well as between middle-income countries and low income countries or those of fragile status.
The discussions in both low-income countries (LICs) and fragile states revealed that the predominant raison d’être for work in society is survival for the majority. At the same time, a continuously widening gap was observed between this majority and the well-off minority. Access to technology was identified as an essential factor in this divide.
Alongside in-country inequality, FoW talks captured a division between countries. In contrast to most low-income and fragile states, debates in middle-income countries (MICs) emphasized the role of work as a provider of dignity.
To address these gaps, dialogue participants called for action to ensure more equal access to technology and implementation of policies that are known to reduce inequality.
DECENT JOBS FOR ALL: A coherent message is emerging across countries in different income categories and fragility status with regard to decent jobs for all in the future: identify and invest in specific sectors with high potential to create decent jobs, and a focus on the green and blue economies. More focused research and support measures are needed to reap the full potential of emerging sectors. The role of inclusive labour regulation, social protection, social dialogue and policy coherence was emphasised across the board.
ORGANISATION OF WORK AND PRODUCTION: Debates here raised the urgent need to find a fair balance between flexibility for enterprises and the protection of workers’ rights, particularly in the new and emerging context of work, where work is not tied to place and time, technology is changing the way we work and international pressures affect production. The need to build inclusive decision-making systems at the local level and to reflect on the roles of social partners was underscored. The role of business development services in supporting local businesses to adapt to change and take advantage of new opportunities was also emphasised. Simultaneously, there was a recognised need to strengthen labour market institutions to ensure respect for rights, and to promote regional integration as a pathway to increased opening to the world. In several fragile states, skills development was raised as the single most important way to adapt to the changes.
GOVERNANCE OF WORK: In these consultations, MICs predominantly focused on how social dialogue can help govern tomorrow’s world of work, calling for revamping current models to effectively address issues in the labour market. LICs stressed the role of international labour standards in regional integration processes, including as a way to ensure access to markets alongside the protection of workers’ rights. Strengthening labour market institutions remains vital in view of current and future challenges while simultaneously promoting the still inadequate awareness on rights at work.
TOWARDS THE ILO’S SECOND CENTURY: Africa’s key messages reinforce the relevance of the mandate of social justice that was entrusted upon the ILO almost 100 years ago, and the work that the organisation carries out on a daily basis. At the same time, they challenge the organisation to keep abreast of rapid developments and to find new ways to address issues affecting workers, employers and governments.
The writer is assistant director-general and regional director for Africa, International Labour Organisation, Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.